It was a cloudy and chilly start to the 57th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the race marking the first event of the 50th anniversary season for IMSA and it looked set to be a fantastic race.

Oliver Jarvis took the overall lap record in qualifying driving the #77 Mazda run by Team Joest. Jarvis led the pack away from the green flag as the pack thundered around the trip-oval banking past the grand stand on the run in to turn one. Jarvis had both the Penske Acuras hot on his tail though as the first round of pit stops approached, losing the lead exiting the pit lane. It wasn't long before the lead Cadillacs began to make themselves known. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac is joined for the 2019 race by Toyota WEC drivers Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi. Jordan Taylor started the race for squad, getting 60 laps under his belt before handing the reigns to Fernando Alonso.

The GT ranks promise to be full of drama and entertainment in both GTLM and GTD with the shear volume of entries in both classes and the incredibly talented list of drivers taking part. GTLM was close fought in the early stages, the #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy fighting hard with Jan Magnussen in the #3 Corvette Racing C7.R. Magnussen took the lead early on around the outside of the banking before Porsche retook the lead after the first pit stop. At the end of the first hour, the two BMW RLL M8 GTE entries sat third and fourth. It was not a completely trouble free opening hour however with the #912 Porsche having to pit twice with brake problems and the #67 Ford disappearing behind the pit wall after making contact with the wall after spinning on cold rubber.

GTD got off to an entertaining start, the #86 Acura holding the lead after the first round of stops in the hands of Trent Hindman. Riley Mercedes were pushing hard though in the hands of Ben Keating, chasing first whilst fighting with the Via Italia Ferrari.

With just four full course yellows throughout the 2018 race, there were five by the end of the first six hours of racing. The #10 and #31 Cadillacs were fighting hard at the front of the field, leading the way. Jordan Taylor started the race for the #10 Konica Minolta backed WTR Cadillac, completing a 60 lap stint before handing the reigns to two time F1 World Champion Fernando ALonso for a quadruple stint of 94 laps. It was then the turn of Kamui Kobayashi who quickly established himself as the fastest driver on track, breaking the 1:34 barrier with a 1:34.598.

LMP2 are running in a separate class this year, with just four LMP2 Oreca's two of which have been entered by Dragonspeed, the #18 Dragonspeed car leading the class was already 3 laps off the pace of the leading DPi. The #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca came together with one of the Acura DPi cars at Turn 1, taking heavy damage and spinning out, causing the fifth Full Course Yellow of the race.

In GTLM, Porsche, Ford and Ferrari were battling hard, with BMW and Corvette a lap down on the leaders but within touching distance should one of the front runners fall away. The #912 Porsche rejoined the race three laps down but with Nick Tandy behind the wheel and the incoming rain, the #912 crew still have an outside chance.

GT Daytona has been as exciting as ever so far, Lexus leading the way early on with the #14 but by the 6 hour mark, it was the #71 Mercedes AMG GT3 of Maxi Buhk leading the way with the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Pedro Lamy, Matthias Lauda, Paul Dalla Lana and Daniel Serra chasing hard.

Despite such a promising start for Mazda, the #77 ran out of luck in the seventh hour, blowing the turbo down the back straight away before grinding to a halt at the bus stop, flames shooting from the exhausts. The two Cadillacs, the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing and the #31 Whelen Engineering were leading leading the way, with the two Penske Acura's also in the mix. By the 12 hour mark, it was the #10 leading the way with the #6 Acura splitting the two Cadillacs, the #31 Cadillac in third and the #7 Acura in fourth. The #55 Mazda rounded out the top five, just off the lead lap.

Dragonspeed continued to dominate in LMP2, the #18 leading the #81. The #38 Performance Tech car sat third in class, seven laps off the lead in class and well out of the running.

GTLM continued to entertain, positions changing as the cars made there way through the traffic. The #3 Corvette led 12 hours in despite an early collision in the pit lane with the #4 Corvette but stopped out on track with a fuel flow issue. The car was towed back to the pits and pushed away behind the wall and back in to the garage. The #25 BMW M8 took over the lead before the next round of stops before the previously delayed Porsche of Nick Tandy took the lead.

Lamborghini led the way in GTD, but it was an incredibly close fought battle with 9 cars all on the lead lap by the half way mark. Theres four hours until daylight with the weather forecasts getting progressively worse!

The Rolex 24 At Daytona is run under approximately 13 hours of darkness, and with day light still some time away, the race continues to chop and change as we progressed into the third quarter. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac was the star of the show at this point, Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi driving head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Alonso was up to three seconds a lap quicker than any other driver out on track during his soaking wet night stint. Full Course Yellow periods were called repeatedly as cars fell off the track left right and centre throughout the night as the rain came down harder and harder. The Red Flag was called out shortly after and the race was halted in the 15th hour. The #10 Cadillac led the way with the #6 and #7 Acura's running second and third. Both Mazdas were out of the race by this point, the #55 car cut out whilst on track and was hit by another car, sending the Mazda out of the race. The race was read flagged after an hour of running under Full Course Yellow, Tommy Milner aquaplaned off the track at Turn One, sliding straight across the run off area and slamming into the crash barrier side on.

No change in LMP2 at this stage but now a three lap split between the #81 and #18.

With the race halted, the #62 Rizi Competitione Ferrari held the lead, the #912 Porsche held second with the #66 Ford GT in third.

In GTD, there were still 5 different brands in competition for the top spot, the #33 Mercedes leading the way from the #86 Acura, #29 Audi, #540 Porsche and the #63 Ferrari.

Early indications showed the race could be an absolute classic with the race distance forecasted to run well beyond any previous records. The cars in every class were running faster than before with class records broken throughout the different classes on the new Michelin rubber. But with 8 and a half hours left to run, the heavens opened and the rain came crashing down, steady at first before it got heavier and heavier. The race was red flagged again with two hours to run the face was red flagged and the race stopped for the final time. The high speed banked sections of the circuit were not an issue, it was the infield section and the run off turn one which proved to be the most treacherous parts of the track.

The Wayne Taylor and Whelan Cadillacs fought hard in the final moments of Green Flag running, the #31 car holding the lead before a mistake from Felipe Nasr saw the Cadillac run wide at Turn 1, handing the lead to Fernando Alonso just before the final red flag.

With just four entrants in LMP2, there were only two in competition for the win by the final stages, the #18 Dragonspeed car and the #38 Performance Tech Car. The #88 Dragonspeed car ran off late in the race whilst leading by 3 laps. The #88 recovered to a distant third place finish.

It was an emotional victory in GTLM for the #25 BMW Team RLL car following the loss of Charly Lamm, a key player in BMW Motorsport. The #62 Ferrari took second place, James Calado the last man behind the wheel as the red flag fell. The #67 Castrol liveried Ford came home in third place.

The GTD class was a competitive as always with a number of offs in the final stages, throwing the results up in the air. It was the #11 Lamborghini Huracan that eventually took the win, making it a second consecutive win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona for Lamborghini.

Images Courtesy of IMSA

Oliver Jarvis topped the time sheets at the Roar Before the 24 earlier this month but officially broke the lap record previous set by PJ Jones way back in 1993. The Mazda Team Joest driver posted a time of 1:33.685, three tenths slower than the time he posted at the Roar but a couple of tenths faster than the record set by Jones.

Ricky Taylor was the closest competition for Jarvis, Taylor posted a time of 1:33.873 in the #7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05. Juan Pablo Montoya put the #6 Acura into third with a time of 1:34.095. Previous winners Cadillac were a little off the pace, Felipe Nasr posting the fastest time for Cadillac with a time of 1:34.433 which was good enough for fifth place only. The #5 Action Express Cadillac failed to set a time in qualifying, suffering a loss of power on the out lap.

James Allen went fastest in LMP2, the #81 DragonSpeed car setting a time of 1:35.904, half a second up on Gabriel Aubry in the #52 PR1 Oreca.

Porsche took pole in the #911 Porsche 911 RSR, posting a new GTLM lap record, Nick Tandy posting a time of 1:42.257 after a brush with the wall. Tandy was half a second up on last years time and had Jan Magnussen just three tenths behind the #911 posting a time of 1:42.583. Ryan Briscoe took third in class in the #67 Ford GT posting a time of 1:42.634.

Marcos Gomes put the #13 Via Italia Racing Ferrari 488GT3 on pole with a time of 1:45.27, setting a new GTD lap record, beating the time set in 2018 by Daniel Serra by eight tenths of a second. Ben Keating took second place in the #33 Mercedes AMG Team Riley Merecedes AMG-GT3 with a time of 1:45.324 whilst Trent Hindman rounded out the top three in the #86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 Evo.

Image courtesy of IMSA.

Felipe Nasr lead the way in the First Free Practice session at Daytona International Speedway, the Brazilian driver posting a time of 1:36.108 in the #31 Action Express Cadillac Dpi-V.R. It was a Cadillac 1-2-3 by the end of the session, Filipe Albuquerque going second with a time of 1:36.707 in the #5 Action Express Cadillac followed by Tristan Vautier in the #85 JDC Miller Motorsports Cadilllac.

Cadillac are running six cars in the Dpi field this year, JDC Miller the latest addition to the customer line up. Noteably however, the #84 JDC Miller car did not run in this session. The #55 Mazda finished the session fourth with a fastest time of 1:38.561, Jonathan Bomarito setting the fastest time. It was a steady start for the Prototype field, the #77 Mazda and #10 Cadillac turning just 9 laps each around the Daytona International Speedway whilst neither of the Acura Team Penske ARX-05’s took to the track.

The #911 Porsche finished on top in GTLM, Fred Makowiecki setting a time of 1:45.334 whilst rivals Ford took third in class, Joey Hand setting a time of 1:47.259 in the #66 Ford GT. A lot of eyes will be on the #24 BMW Team RLL with Alex Zanardi at the wheel this weekend. The #24 car 1:52.739, everyone taking it easy as they settle into the long weekend of racing at Daytona.

Corey Lewis put the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini at the top of the time sheets, setting the pace in the new for 2019 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo with a time of 1:46.577. The initial pace in GTD a lot closer so far than the other classes as Kelvin Van Der Linde proved with a time fastest time of 1:46.592 in the #88 Audi R8 LMS GT3. Aaron Telitz rounded out the top three in GTD with a time of 1:46.651 in the #12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RCF GT3.

Image courtesy of IMSA

Mazda have dominated all weekend at the Roar Before the 24, threatening all day Saturday to beat the PJ Jones lap record of the Daytona infield set in 1993, Oliver Jarvis unofficially smashed the record on his third qualifying run with a time of 1:33.398, half a second faster than the 1:33.875 set by PJ Jones in the AAR Toyota Eagle MK III. Harry Tincknell was the only visible competition for the former Audi WEC driver, Tincknell 0.025 of a second further back.

“It felt incredible, big thanks to Mazda Team Joest, Multimatic and AER,” Jarvis said. “The tyre is outperforming last year, the car has been an absolute joy to drive. We ran full qualifying spec, we pushed the car to the limit and that’s what we love as drivers, getting everything out of the car. This is confidence inspiring, we’ve got a good package, we’ve done tons of work over the winter. We’ve had a really good Roar, when you look back at how tough it was last year, but we know that our competitors will be closer when we come back later this month.”

Ricky Taylor was eight tenths off the pace in third, the #7 Cadillac set a time of 1:34.261 taking third ahead of the #5 Action Express Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque. Filipe Nasr completed the top five.

Once again, Gabriel Aubry lead the LMP2 field in the PR1 Oreca leading the #81 and #18 DragonSpeed cars with a time of 1:35.930.

The #3 Corvette qualified first in GTLM, Jan Magnussen setting a time of 1:42.651, the fastest ever GTLM lap around Daytona. Magnussen and Richard Westbrook in the #67 Ford exchanged fastest laps at the front before setting a 1:42.779 and boxing early.

“Come Qualifying we did what we did last year, agreed who would tow who, and it was me again getting towed by the other car with Oliver in, he did a great job placing himself at Turn 6 so I could tow past him. We did the exact thing last year to get pole last year. It worked well for us” said Magnussen after the session. The #66 Ford took third ahead of the two Porsches which had performed so well on Saturday. Earl Bamber lead Nick Tandy across the line, Bamber with a time of 1:42.919, Tandy with a 1:43.051.

All images courtesy of IMSA

Lap times fell on the second day of running at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Mazda leading the way throughout, Jonathan Bomarito setting the fastest time of the day in the night session with a 1:34.533 in the #55 Mazda Team Joest DPi. Times weren't just falling in the DPi class however, most of the field were lapping faster than the best race times from 2018.

Harry Tincknell was the first to break the 1:35 mark in the first session of the day, the Mazda running fastest and closing in on the 1993 lap record, a 1:33.875 set in a Toyota Eagle MK III. Tincknell set a time of 1:34.925, Fernando Alonso just behind with a time of 1:35.052 before the session closed. Renger Van Der Zande fought back in the fourth session though, the times dropping again to 1:34.534 in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac. Ricky Taylor put the #7 Acura ARX-05 second in the fourth session with a time of 1:35.017 with the top three rounded out by Mike Conway in the Action Express Cadillac.

Jonathan Bomarito fought back in the final session of the day, and the first night practice session for the class of 2019. It was a close fought session though, Bomarito going just 0.444 faster than Van Der Zande by the end of the session. Initially Bomarito was just 0.001 seconds faster than Renger Van Der Zande but as the session wore on, the Mazda crew pulled further ahead. The #55 Mazda went six tenths up in the final stages of the session before the #31 Action Express Cadillac of Pipo Derrani fought back to split the two Mazda's with a time of 1:35.179.

The #52 PR1 Oreca finished the second day at the top of the time sheets, Gabriel Aubry once again at the front and over a half a second up on Ben Hanley in the DragonSpeed Oreca. Aubry set a time of 1:36.99, 2.457 seconds off the pace of the front running DPi cars.

Porsche finished 1-2 in GTLM in the final session of the day, the #911 ahead of the #912, former Porsche LMP1 driver Nick Tandy posting a time of 1:43.402 to close of the days action. Porsche lead the way in the first session of the morning, Mathieu Jaminet topping the times with a 1:43.862 in the #912 just 0.007 seconds up on Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette. Ford fought back in the second session of the day, Scott Dixon taking the fastest time of the GTLM class at the Roar so far with a time of 1:43.148, 0.075 up on Patrick Pilet in the #911. Scott Dixon couldn't quite beat the Porsche's at night, coming within four tenths of Tandy in the night session.

Porsche also lead the way in the first session of GTD, the #540 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 RSR of Matteo Cairoli setting a time of 1:45.919, 0.026 quicker than the #96 Acura NSX of Trent Hindman and Meyer Shank Racing w/Curb-Agajanian. Hindman took the top spot in session two of the day though, going quicker again with a time of 1:45.533, eight tenths up on the #57 sister car. Paul Dalla Lana caused the only red flag of the session, the Canadian this time at the wheel of a Ferrari 488 GT3 rather than the Aston Martin Vantage GTE car he runs in the WEC, hit the barrier head on at the second horseshoe in the final moments of the session. The #13 Via Italia 488 GT3 Ferrari finished the day at the top of the time sheets, Victor Franzoni setting a time of 1:45.842, two tenths faster than the #71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 which took second.

All images courtesy of IMSA

Kobayashi tops rain soaked second session.

Session two of the 2019 Roar Before the 24 was interrupted by torrential rain, giving the teams a good opportunity to test the new Michelin wets before the session was red flagged. Kobayashi posted an early time of 1:36.596, just 0.008 faster than the #55 Mazda which finished the session in second. The #77 car was just 0.242 seconds off the pace before the rain came down.

The #50 Juncos Cadillac took third ahead of the #7 Acura which rounded out the top five. The CORE Nissan DPi managed to set its first times of the day, finishing eighth in class with a time of 1:37.522.

Three of the four LMP2 cars took part in the second session, the #81 Dragonspeed Oreca making its first appearance taking second in class with a time of 1:39.788, 0.213 behind Matt McMurry in the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Oreca. The #18 Dragonspeed Oreca still remained in the garage.

The sole entry Ferrari, run by Risi Competizione topped the session with a time of 1:44.718, topping the session by just a tenth of a second. Ryan Briscoe put the #67 Ford into second position ahead of Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette. the #912 Porsche took fourth place, meaning there were four different manufacturers all separated by less than three tenths of a second.

The #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes topped the times again, Jeroen Bleekemolen going fastest again with a time of 1:46.452. The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari took second place with the #96 Turner BMW M6 GT3 of Jens Klingmann took third.

All images courtesy of IMSA

Mazda lead the way in opening practice.

British driver Oliver Jarvis led the way in the opening session at the 2019 Roar Before the Rolex 24, leading the 10 DPi cars that took part in the session. Jarvis posted a best lap of 1:35.989 in the #77 Mazda. His team mate Olivier Pla in the sister #77 car finished third on the time sheets with a time of 1:36.449. Jarvis went quicker than the lap record set by Renger van der Zande last year in the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac during qualifying in 2018.

Cadillac held five of the top seven spots with Jordan Taylor leading the Cadillac entrants with a time of 1:36.407 in the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Fernando Alonso ran six laps in the first session, posting a time of 1:36.984, half a second slower than his team mate Jordan Taylor. Felipe Nasr was fourth in the #31 Whelen Engineering car with Filipe Albuquerque rounding out the top five in the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac with a time of 1:36.872. Ricky Taylor was the fastest of the two Penske Acura's with a time of 1:37.825 in the #7 car whilst the #54 CORE Autosport Nissan did not take part in the session.

In the LMP2 ranks, only two cars made it out, neither DragonSpeed ORECA setting times in the opening session. The fastest of the two was the #51 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA thanks to a 1:39.828 by Gabriel Aubry. The sister #52 car was a little slower with a time of 1:40.694.

Porsche finished 1-2 in GTLM with Patrick Pilet setting the fastest time in the #911 Porsche 911RSR, a time of 1:44.866 enough to put him at the top of the time sheets ahead of team mate Earl Bamber who posted a time of 1:45.028 in the #912 Porsche 911RSR.

Jeroen Bleekemolen went fastest in GT Daytona, the #33 Wynn's Mercedes AMG GT3 setting a time of 1:47.188.

All images courtesy of IMSA

Its 2019, IMSA’s 50th anniversary and the action kicked off once again this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

2019 promises to be a fantastic season in the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship with an unprecedented number of manufacturers set to take part throughout the season. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dirk Mueller, 2017 GTLM category winner at the Rolex 24 was ecstatic ahead of the first test day, “It’s just amazing. I don’t know how long we’ve been saying ‘It’s the best championship, it’s the best championship, it’s the best championship.’ It is the best championship, that’s for sure. It keeps on getting better and better. All the ingredients are in here: fantastic cars, really, really good teams, good manufacturers, good drivers and it keeps getting better. It makes me somewhat proud to be part of it. It’s like a huge community and people outside it, they’re getting jealous.”

“You see great names coming already for this race,” said Helio Castroneves, who is returning for his second full season of WeatherTech Championship competition as co-driver of the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi with 2017 Prototype co-champion Ricky Taylor. “It sounds like we’re going to have a lot of cars with DPi, but also in GTD and GTLM. You have factories, there are so many in the series. When you have that kind of scenario, it shows that everybody is interested. I see no reason for it going down. It’s actually just going to continue going up.”

The Rolex 24 At Daytona will again see some of the biggest names in motorsport. Fernando Alonso made his debut in 2018 and returns in 2019 with Wayne Taylor Racing, piloting the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi alongside Jordan Taylor, Renger van de Zande and his Toyota team mate Kamui Kobayashi.

Alex Zanardi, the legendary Paralympics gold medallist makes his Daytona debut driving for BMW using a specially modified steering wheel with hand controls. Zanardi lost both of his legs in a high-speed Champ Car crash back in 2001.

This year, the championship winning Prototype, the #31 Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R with Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran at the wheel will be joined by Pipo Derani for the full season. Curran will take part in the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds only.

In GT Daytona, more commonly known as GT3 in Europe, the #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan will have Ryan Hardwick joining returning champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick is no stranger to Lamborghini however, having won the Super Trofeo North American AM championship in 2018.

The 2018 GTLM championship winning car, the #3 Corvette Racing car will be driven once again by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. The pair never won a race in 2018, it was their consistency across the season that saw them eventually crowned 2018 champions.

The Daytona Prototype international category is going from strength to strength, with the 11 entries across four manufacturers for the Roar Before the 24. There are six entries from Cadillac, two Acura DPi’s 2 Mazda’s run by Team Joest and one Nissan. The #5 Mustang Sampling DPi-V.R won the Rolex 24 in 2018 and will return once again with Joao Barbosa, Feilipe Albuquerque Christian Fittipaldi and Mike Conway at the wheel. Fittipaldi announced his retirement from motorsport this week and will step down from racing at the end of January.

LMP2 numbers have fallen this year with a number of prototype teams switching to DPi cars over the LMP2 spec chassis options with JDC Miller for one, having switched to the Cadillac DPi chassis. All four LMP2 entries are Oreca chassis combined with Gibson V8 engines.

There are five manufacturers taking part in GT Le Mans with two cars each from Chevrolet, BMW, Ford and Porsche with Ferrari represented with just one entry. The 2018 GTLM championship winning car, the #3 Corvette Racing car will be driven once again by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. The pair never won a race in 2018, it was their consistency across the season that saw them eventually crowned 2018 champions.

And in GTD, the class has grown once again with 23 GT3 cars on the entry list for the Roar Before. The class will be made up of five Lamborghini’s four Audi’s four Porsche’s three Ferrari’s, two Lexus, two Mercedes’s two Acura’s and one BMW. The #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan will have Ryan Hardwick joining returning champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick is no stranger to Lamborghini however, having won the Super Trofeo North American AM championship in 2018.

All images courtesy of IMSA

Toyota Gazoo take a 1-2 finish in the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.

The #7 TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez took the win in a rain soaked 6 Hours of Shanghai that was interrupted by numerous red flags. The storm began before the race, intensifying in the run up to the start. The race began under safety car and with poor visibility it was quickly red flagged after the #3 Rebellion R-13 slammed into the barriers after aquaplaning on standing water. The race began briefly before a second red flag as the rain intensified. The race eventually went green with just over three hours to run as the track began to dry. The ByKolless CLM caught fire on the pit straight bringing out another safety car. With the safety car back in the pits, the race re-started before a final safety car and late rain storm towards the end of the race added to the drama.

Behind the Toyota, SMP and Rebellion fought for the last step of the podium, SMP claiming their first podium of the season. The #11 BR1 of Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin finished a lap down on the two Toyotas but ahead of the Rebellions and the sister car - Matevos Issakyan having a big off in the final 20 minutes and triggering the final safety car. The #1 Rebellion R13 finished fourth ahead of the #3. Lotterer and Petrov fought hard in the closing stages, Lotterer unable to keep up with Petrov in the final minutes.

In LMP2, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing of Stephane Richelmi, Gabriel Aubrey and Ho Pin Tung took their third win of the season in difficult conditions. The car had multiple offs during the race but managed to keep consistent when on track. The DragonSpeed #31 Oreca led the race for most of the second half before eventually finishing second. The Signatech Alpine took third after the TDS Racing Oreca had to pit on the final lap. The #38 now has a good lead in the championship, both cars having started the race on equal points. The LMP2 cars struggled throughout the race, the GTE Pro cars performing better in the wet conditions saw the GTE-Pro class winning #95 Aston Martin finishing ahead of the LMP2 field.

It was a massive victory for Aston Martin in GTE-Pro, taking the first win of the season for the new Aston Martin Vantage. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen mastered the tricky conditions, fighting their way through the field from fourth in the fifth hour after the ByKolles fire. Behind them, Richard Lietz took the #91 Porsche to second place, passing Tom Blomqvist in the #82 BMW, Davide Rigon in the #71 Ferrari and Alex Lynn in the #97 Aston Martin. The #92 Porsche finished third in the hands of Michael Christensen who fought past Maxime Martin in the finally stages. The #51 Ferrari rounded out the top five. BMW fell down the order as the race progressed, the #82 falling outside of the top 10 whilst the #81 crossed the line in sixth place.

Having started on pole, the #66 Ford got caught up in contact with the #92 Porsche early on. Kevin Estre hit Olivier Pla into Turn 1. The stewards put it down to a racing incident with no penalty for either car. Andy Priaulx lost control of the #67, sending the Ford into the gravel trap. Priaulx and Tincknell finished in seventh.

Dempsey Proton Racing took the win in GTE-Am, the team having lost all of their points following technical infringements and data tampering after Fuji. The #77 won the race, leading the way from the Project 1 Porsche who have now inherited the AM Class Championship. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche finished the podium places having lost second in the closing moments.

Toyota continue their dominance in LMP1, locking out the front row in qualifying for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi took pole position with an average time of 1:42.931 with the championship leading #8 car of Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima just 0.228 seconds behind. During the first half of qualifying, Bruno Senna split the Toyotas going quicker than Fernando Alonso. Nakajima fought back in the second session though to best Andre Lotterer by just three tenths of a second. The resulting average times meant that the #1 Rebellion took third, losing out on second place by six hundredths of a second! The #17 SMP Racing took fourth with the #3 Rebellion rounding out the top five.

In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing took a 1-2 front row lock out for their home event. Ho Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubrey posting an average time of 1:48.888 around the Shanghai circuit. The #37, which took the win in Fuji averaged a time of 1:49.138 – three thents off pole position. With the #38 scoring a point for pole position in class, they are now on equal points with Signatech Alpine for the lead of the championship. Alpine will start fourth in class behind the DragonSpeed Oreca on the second row.

In GTE-Pro, Stefan Mucke and Olvier Pla took Ford’s third pole of the season after a close fight with BMW Team MTEK. BMW were on for a 1-2 finish in qualifying before Mucke put the 66 Ford top of the time sheets with a time of 1:58.464. The #81 BMW M8 GTE of Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg will start second with the #82 car in fifth. The #97 Aston Martin and #92 Porsche dropped the BMW down the order, setting fast times late in the session.

A last-ditch lap from Pedro Lamy saw the #98 Aston snatch pole position in GTE-Am ahead of the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari will start in third.

Tomorrows race looks set to be a wet one and gets under way at 11Am local time.

#7 climbs from the back of the field to take first win of the season

Toyota Gazoo Racing secured a 1-2 finish at its home FIA World Endurance Championship race at Fuji Speedway as the #7 climbed from the back of the LMP1 field to take its first win of the superseason. The start of the race, held on a wet-but-drying track, was held under safety car conditions as teams got a feel for the conditions. As soon as the race went green, the #7 – of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez – started to gain positions as it cut its way through the LMP1 privateers. However, they didn’t have much chance to make real inroads as an explosive tyre failure for the MR Racing Ferrari 488 of Motoaki Ishikowa led to a lengthy caution period as the marshals cleared up tyre and bodywork debris scattered across the start-finish straight. While Jenson Button inherited the lead of the race – thanks to the Brit staying out under the safety car in his SMP Racing BR1, rather than pitting for new tyres – the #3 Rebellion Racing R13 of Gustavo Menezes had its race ended abruptly. Coming out of turn one, Menezes lost control of the car and hit the barriers causing extensive damage to the rear of the car. After the early excitement, the six hours turned into a comfortable rhythm for the Toyota crews as the #7 moved into the race lead by the end of the second hour and didn’t relinquish the position. The #8 of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima finished second, 11.440sec behind. Rounding out the podium positions was the #1 Rebellion Racing R13, while Button brought the #11 – which he shared with Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov, home in fourth.

In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing continued the dominant pace the team had shown from the start of the weekend as the #37 led home the #38 Oreca 07. The team had fortune on their side though, as the pole-sitting Dragonspeed Oreca – started by Anthony Davidson – gambled on full wets at the start but quickly lost positions to the cars behind which had started on intermediates on the rapidly driving track. The correct tyres, and good strategy, allowed Jazeman Jaafar and Gabriel Aubry to climb up to the top spots in the JCDC entries, while a great overtaking move at turn one by Nicolas Lapierre in the Signatech Alpine moved the Frenchman up to third during the second hour. When the chequered flag came out, those positions remained the same with Matthieu Vaxiviere – in the TDS Racing entry – finishing a lap down in fourth.

The GTE Pro battle proved to be one of the tightest on the track as most of the manufacturers led the class for at least some section of the race. Aston Martin Racing started on pole with the #95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, but as the track dried out, the Vantage lost pace – allowing the BMW Team MTEK BMW M8 of Antonio Felix Da Costa to pull into the lead after a great opening stint. However, as the race went on, the #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre regained the positions they lost early on to take their second win of the season. The BMW of Da Costa and Blomqvist held onto second, as they opened up a solid gap over the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

Team Project 1 continued the Porsche dominance of the GTE classes as the #56 won GTE Am. Driven by Patrick Lidsey, Jorg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti, the trio were in contention from the start as they battled the Spirit of Race Ferrari on-and-off for the opening two-thirds of the race. As the Ferrari fell away, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche moved into contention as Matteo Cairoli relegated Jonny Adam – in the TF Sport Aston Martin – to third in the final half hour. Cairoli looked to be closing in on Bergmeister, but ran out of time to have any chance of threatening the leaders. Adam finished on the podium, ahead of the factory Aston Martin of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana despite the latter spinning to the back of the field on the opening lap.

Pit lane speed penalty denies Toyota a 1-2 start

The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez will start the Six Hours of Fuji at the back of the LMP1 field after being stripped of pole position. The entry, which had initially benefitted from Sebastien Buemi’s fastest lap in the #8 being deleted for a track limits violation, was itself stripped of its times because Lopez was adjudged to have been too fast going into pit entry. The penalty means the #8 – driven by Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima - has secured its third pole position of the season and will start on the front-row alongside the #1 Rebellion Racing R13-AER.

Toyota explained that the Argentinian hadn’t engaged the pit speed limiter before the pit lane entrance, meaning he was 8.7km/h too fast entering the pits.

“It happened and from my side I have learned from this and will avoid a similar situation in the future. My biggest mistake is not reporting the issue because I had a little doubt. I didn't know it could affect my lap time, which had been completely legal. If I had known that I would have reported it and for sure we would have done another lap but I will learn from this. It's a pity but there is still a long race ahead of us,” Lopez added.

Kobayashi and Lopez take home pole for Toyota in LMP1

Toyota Gazoo Racing will start its home FIA World Endurance Championship race on pole position as it took a 1-2 in qualifying at Fuji Speedway. The #7 TS050 Hybrid of Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez ended the 20-minute session on pole, but they had fortune on their side as the #8 – driven by Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi – had a lap deleted late on. The penalty, for Buemi running wide at turn 15, demoted the Swiss from pole to second, and his second lap was only good enough for second – 0.091sec off the pole on the two-driver average lap times.

The second row was locked out by Rebellion Racing as the pairing of Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani in the #1 R13-Gibson edged out their team-mates Gustavo Menezes and Thomas Laurent by 0.174sec. Fifth went to the #11 SMP Racing entry of Stephane Sarrazin and Egor Orudzhev, the pair finishing just ahead of the sister car of Jenson Button and Vitaly Petrov.

In LMP2, it was the Dragonspeed Oreca 07 that claimed the top spot as Anthony Davidson’s blistering lap in his stint combined with an equally strong time from Roberto Gonzalez to go 0.297sec clear of the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. The #37 – driven by Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri – edged out the second car of Stephane Richelmi and Gabriel Aubry by just 0.091sec in a session-long battle between the pair.Fourth went to Signatech Alpine, with TDS Racing – which was fighting at the top in practice – only fifth at the hands of Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere.

In GTE Pro, Aston Martin Racing secured the best qualifying result for the new Aston Martin Vantage so far this season as it claimed a 1-3 start. Taking pole position was the ‘Dane Train’ #95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen as the pair set a 1m36.093sec on their average times to go 0.182sec clear of the BMW Team MTEK BMW M8 of Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa. Third was the second Aston Martin of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin, which was just 0.091sec quicker than the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell – the latter losing time on his last flying lap, and missing out on the chance of improving the #67’s time. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird rounded out the top five, just 0.449sec off the pace of the pole sitters.

Like Free Practice Three this morning, GTE Am was dominated by the Porsche 911 RSRs. Claiming pole position was the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing entry driven by Matteo Cairoli and Satoshi Hoshino. The Pedro Lamy/Paul Dalla Lana Aston Martin was second – breaking the Porsche dominance slightly – but they have two Porsches breathing down their neck – the #77 Dempsey-Proton entry and the #56 Team Project 1 car.

#8 Toyota sets the pace in the first two practice sessions in Japan

Toyota Gazoo Racing topped both the opening practice sessions for its home FIA World Endurance Championship round at Fuji, despite both sessions being disrupted by red flags. In both sessions, it was the #8 TS050 Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima that topped the LMP1 times. In the first session, Buemi was the master of the damp/drying conditions while in the second, it was Alonso who set the fastest lap of the weekend so far. Best of the rest in the top prototype class was shared between the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1–AER and the #13 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson. However, both sessions were heavily disrupted as staff at the Japanese circuit had to undertake multiple repairs to ‘sausage’ kerbs which were damaged repeatedly in the two 90-minute practices.

The fastest time in LMP2 was set by Matthieu Vaxiviere the TDS Racing Oreca 07 in the first session. Signatech Alpine’s Andre Negrao set the pace in the second test, but couldn’t find the pace to beat the Frenchman’s early benchmark. Jackie Chan DC Racing had a good start to the weekend as the #38 of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi was twice the runner-up around the Fuji Speedway.

Despite Balance of Performances changes prior to the weekend, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing topped GTE Pro in FP1. Stefan Mucke finished ahead of both the Porsche 911 RSRs and the second Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell. However, FP2 was the Aston Martin show as the #95 Aston Martin Vantage of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen topped the competitive GT class thanks to a late charge by Thiim. The Dane’s time, with just ten minutes remaining in the slightly extended session, deposed Tincknell from the top spot and denied Ford a sweep of Friday practice.

In GTE Am, Pedro Lamy left it until his last lap of the session to give the previous generation Aston Martin Vantage GTE top honours in FP1, denying the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell - the pace-setter for most of the session. Dempsey-Proton got its revenge in the second session though, as Matteo Cairoli topped the times in the sister #88.

Ginetta and Manor Endurance Racing part ways ahead of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

Manor Endurance Racing have stated that they will have no further involvement in the running of the Ginetta AER G60 LT-P1 program due to commercial reasons. It is no secret that the Chinese backers involved in the project, CEFC China Energy have been having financial difficult from the early stages of the program which forced both cars to sit out the season opening race at Spa Francorchamps. Both cars faced technical issues at the Prologue back in March which severely limited the amount of running they were able to do. As As a result, the competition debut of the car was this summers 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The entry is held by TRSM China Motorsport who contracted Manor Endurance Racing as a service provider. Ginetta have heavily subsidised the running of the program this year in the interest of getting the cars out on the grid and competing on the world stage and are now focused on getting the car back out there with the new AER engine to see how they stack up against the competition. Manor Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon stated that Ginetta were not in a position to change the engine ahead of the Silverstone race, however, Ginetta insisted the car had been homologated in time for the event. However, this was apparently not the case with both cars failing to take the start of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone as the team had missed the deadline for dispensation from the FIA Endurance Committee to enter under a different model of car.

A single G60-LT-P1 is still entered for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji in October with Oliver Rowland, Alex Brundle and Mike Simpson on the entry list.

Both Toyota TS050 Hybrids have been disqualified this evening from the 6 Hours of Silverstone due to technical infringements. As a result, Rebellion Racing inherit a 1-2 finish.

Toyota were found to have failed a skid block deflection test in post race scrutineering. According to the stewards report the front section of the #8 Toyota’s skid block deflected 9mm under the specified 2500 N load on both sides. The #7 car had a 8mm deflection on the left side and a 6mm deflection on the right. Both cars were found to be in breach of Article 3.5.6.d of the LMP1H technical regulations and have therefore been excluded from the results. Toyota claim that both cars must have sustained damage to the internal stays resulting in the regulations breach. This explanation was quickly dismissed by the stewards who stated that the cars must be able to handle the normal demands of a six hour endurance race. The #3 Rebellion R13 of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes take the win in a 1-2 finish, marking the first outright victory for a non hybrid LMP1 since Spa 2012 where Audi won with the R18 Ultra.

Toyota claimed their third straight 1-2 finish at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone making it three from three for the #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso.

The race got off to a chaotic start in LMP1, there was contact between the #17 SMP Racing BR1 of Stephane Sarrazin and the #3 Rebellion R13 of Mathias Beche. Beche was spun around whilst Sarrazin was forced wide off the circuit before rejoining on the run down towards Village. The pack split to avoid the tangled cars with a number of cars running wide over the run off. The #11 SMP Racing BR1 retired early on with engine failure and before home favourite Jenson Button even stepped in the car.

By the mid way point, Toyota held a comfortable lead, they were two laps ahead of the LMP1 privateer field with Fernando Alonso leading the way in the #8. The two cars had been jostling for position in the opening few hours before Alonso made a move on Mike Conway to take the lead. Rebellion managed to take third and fourth after Egor Orudzhev spun the car out of third position. Rene Binder retired the ByKolles CLM a couple of hours in, Binder diving off the circuit in avoidance of the Larbre Ligier who hit the brakes to adhere to a Full Course Yellow. Binder slammed into the barriers at the exit of the complex before spinning back out onto the track.

Toyota crossed the line with a comfortable lead at the end of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone, the two TS050 Hybrid’s dominating as expected, crossing the line 4 laps ahead of the third place Rebellion. The Toyota #8 took a late lead in the final hour as the #7 of Conway, Lopez and Kobayashi suffered an issue with the floor. It was far from an easy win for the #8 though, the two cars traded places throughout the race, running within a couple of seconds of each other throughout the race. With the #7 dropping back in the final hour, the #8 Toyota crossed the line 19 seconds ahead. The #1 Rebellion looked set to take its first podium of the year but unfortunately had to change the rear wing at the final stop, dropping them in to fourth place behind the #3. It was a steady race for the Rebellions. Both cars were caught up in the Turn 1 incident but the teams got their heads down and pushed on as the rest fell by the wayside.

LMP2 was fairly static early on, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca held an early advantage of nearly half a minute towards the end of the first hour. There was a change of position at the end of the first hour as Ho Pin tung managed to pass the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara of Giedo Van Der Garde to make it a Jackie Chan DC Racing 1-2, an impressive achievement in itself following a drive through penalty for the #38 in the opening stages for contact at Turn 1. Further down the pack, it was a difficult start for the #31 DragonSpeed LMP2 entry, Roberto Gonzalez was forced to perform a full car re-set in the middle of the pack, cars dived left and right to avoid the stranded car but the #67 Ford made contact resulting in Gonzalez pitting for a rear end change.

The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca lost the lead with a puncture just before the halfway point, dropping the car back to fourth and promoting the #38 car into the lead. At the halfway mark, the #28 TDS Racing Oreca and Signatech Alpine completed the top three. The third hour ended under safety car with TDS Racing emerging in the lead once the latest round of pit stops were completed and the race went back to green, Loic Duval leading the way. It was Jackie Chan DC Racing however who fought back to take a 1-2 finish, the #38 taking its second win of 2018. It was an impressive finish for the team, both cars had issues throughout the race. The #37 suffered a puncture and the #38 served an early drive through penalty for jumping the start before losing more time behind a safety car to recover the #82 MTEK BMW which went off at Beckets in a cloud of smoke. The championship leading Signatech Alpine finished third and a lap down on the two Jackie Chan DC Racing cars.

GTE-Pro was its usual self, close racing throughout the field with Olivier Pla having to work hard to recover the lead having been forced wide through Turn 1 to avoid the chaos ahead. Kevin Estre assumed an early lead, holding position through to the first round of stops. It was a strong start for Aston Martin who enjoyed a hard battle with both Ford GT’s early on. By the first round of stops, it was Kevin Estre who led the way from Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford and Sam Bird in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

Ford continued to lead in GTE-Pro, Andy Priaulx having now handed over to Harry Tincknell who led the field under safety car. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari split the two Fords having pitted just before the full course caution. Porsche were struggling with tyre degradation issues and were unable to challenge the leaders for now. Aston Martin were still lapping well but had fallen down the order before the safety car was called out as the result of a violent puncture. An issue in the next pit stop for the #66 Ford dropped the Stefan Mucke, Olivier Pla car out of contention.

The battle in GTE-Pro continued all the way to the finish as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari took their first win of the year. The #91 Porsche took second place ahead of the #67 Ford which took the final podium position after a fantastic fight to the finish with the #92 Porsche. Harry Tincknell went around the outside of Christensen at Stowe, the two of them banging together in the process before drag racing on the run down to the Vale Club complex. It was the best performance of the season so far for Aston Martin who finished fifth. The #95 had gearbox issues throughout the race but the #97 was always amongst the fight for the top five positions.

Leading the way early on in GTE-Am was the TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluc, Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood. Like the GTE Pro field, Yoluc had to take avoiding action through Turn 1, emerging in the lead ahead of the two Porsches. Contact for Paul Dalla Lana and the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari saw both cars enter the pits early on and fall down the running order. Project 1 Porsche managed to retake the lead at the first round of stops with the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche holding third place behind the #90 TF Sport Aston. By the half way mark, the #56 Project 1 Porsche led the way from the TF Sport Aston Martin. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche was holding its own in third.

The fight in GTE-Am came down to the final hour of the race between the Team Project 1 Porsche and TF Sport Aston Martin, or so it appeared. The two cars fought hard for the lead, Jonny Adam and Patrick Lindsay fighting hard in the final couple of hours. Both cars were handed 75 second stop-go penalties for pitstop infringements under Safety Car. As a result the #77 took the lead and inherited the win, extending their title lead with a second win of the season. The TF Sport Aston finished second place with the #56 Project 1 Porsche taking third place on the final lap of the race, passing Pedro Lamy in the #98 Aston Martin.

For the third time this year, Toyota take pole position, however this time, its the #7 car that will lead the field at the start of tomorrows FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone

Fernando Alonso set the early pace in the LMP qualifying session with just one flying lap earlier this afternoon but Mike Conway returned to the top of the time sheets shortly before the driver change, beating Alonso by just 0.020 seconds. Kazuki Nakajima struggled to match Alonso’s pace after the switch over in a session hindered by traffic. The Japanese driver could only manage a time that was eight tenths slower than Lopez resulting in the first pole of the year for the #7 car. Although the #7 car took pole at Spa, it was disqualified in post qualifying scrutineering. The #7 car set a time of 1:36.895 with Alonso and Nakajima managing a 1:37.306.

It was a relatively strong performance for SMP Racing, the #11 BR1 of Mikhaeil Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and Jenson Button qualified third in class but just over two seconds off the qualifying pace of the lead Toyota with a time of 1:38.932. Rebellion will start fourth and fifth in class tomorrow afternoon, the #3 leading the #1 car by just four tenths of a second.

In LMP2, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing car led a front row lock out, Jazeman Jaafar and Nail Jeffri setting a combined average of 1:44.896. The sister car, the #38 of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi was just three tenths back whilst the championship leader, the #36 Signatech Alpine of Lapierre, Negrao and Thiriet finished the session in third place with a time of 1:46.370.

Pastor Maldonado caused the first incident of the session, sending the #31 Dragonspeed into the gravel trap early on. This was shortly followed by contact between the #50 Larbre Competition Ligier JSP217 and the #29 Racing Team Nederland entry through Becketts. With just 5 minutes on the clock, Frits Van Eerd spun the #29 into the gravel backwards at Copse, causing a temporary red flag before a last minute dash to the flag.

In GTE Qualifying, Aston Martin continued to show an improved performance as a result of the rebalancing of the BOP regulations. Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla put the #66 Ford on pole position despite a strong challenge from the #97 Aston Martin of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn. The Aston duo qualified less than a tenth behind the Ford with a time of 1:55.805. Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim will start from third on the grid.

It was a disappoint session for Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford who will start tomorrows race in fourth. Both drivers struggled with traffic and will have a hard job tomorrow to recover lost ground.

BMW once again found themselves at the back of the pack, the #82 and #81 qualifying seventh and eighth respectively.

Championship new comers this year Project 1 secured the teams first pole position in the hands of Jorg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti, taking pole by two tenths over the Le Mans winning #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche. Aston Martin took third an fourth in class, TF Sport taking third position ahead of the #98 AMR.

Tomorrows race kicks off at 12:00

Toyota remain top of the time sheets through all three Free Practice sessions at Silverstone.

Toyota Gazooo Racing kicked of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone with a 1-2 finish in each of the three sessions. The #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez set the fastest time in the opening session on Friday Morning, Conway setting a 1:39.916 with the sister car, the #7, just three tenths behind. Jose Maria Lopez made sure that the #7 remained top of the time sheets in FP2 later on Friday Afternoon, going 1.4 seconds quicker than Conway’s earlier bench mark to post a time of 1:38.536. Come Saturday morning and the final Free Practice session of the weekend, it was Fernando Alonso who topped the time sheets, taking another second off Friday’s times with a 1:37.677. Most notably however from the third session of the weekend, the #7 Toyota finished fourth, the two hybrid runners were split by both of the SMP entries, Jenson Button initially taking second place early in the session before his time was beaten by team mate Stephane Sarrazin in the other car.

The first session on Friday morning was red flagged on two different occasions, the first of which was the result of a substantial accident for the #1 Rebellion Racing R13 of Bruno Senna. Senna had a big off at Copse Corner and suffered a right ankle fracture in the impact. He has been ruled out from the remainder of the weekend leaving Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer to compete on their own. Rather impressively, Rebellion managed to get the car repaired and back out on track in time for FP3 on Saturday morning. The second red flag from Free Practice 1 was caused by the #4 ByKolles Racing ENSO CLM dropping oil on the track between turns 5 and 6 down the Wellington Straight.

In LMP2, the #28 TDS Racing Oreca 07 has remained around the top of the time sheets all weekend so far, taking the fastest time in Free Practice 1 and Free Practice 3. Former Audi LMP1 star Loic Duval set the fastest time of FP1 with stiff competition from the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca and the #36 Signatech Alpine. The trio are clear favourites this weekend having traded times throughout each of the three practice sessions. Frenchman Gabriel Aubry took the fastest time in Free Practice 2 for the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car before the #28 TDS Racing Oreca returned to the tope of the time sheets in Free Practice 3.

Despite a change in BOP regulations in the build up to Silverstone, Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK continued to top the time sheets in the opening Free Practice session. The results looked much the same as normal early on, Ford leading the way with Porsche close behind. Ferrari managed to split the two Porsche GT Team cars, the #51 taking fourth at the end of the first session with both Aston Martin Racing and BMW Team MTEK making up the rear of the field. It was however, all change in Free Practice 2, Aston Martin Racing shot to the top of the time sheets early on before Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx responded to end the session fastest. It was a good result however for Aston Martin who managed to split the two Fords to take second and fourth in class. There were more surprises in store for Free Practice 3 on Saturday Morning, BMW Team MTEK briefly topped the running, the #82 of Augusto Farfus setting a 1:56.8. But by the end of the session, normal service was resumed, Ford going 1.2 seconds quicker than anyone else. Aston Martin and Ferrari however finished third and fourth, indicating that the recent BOP change may have had a positive affect on the class. Let’s see how things turn out in qualifying.

Porsche and Aston Martin continued to dominate in GTE-Am, the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche initially setting a time of 1:59.418 and leading a Porsche 1-2-3 from the #77 Dempsey Porsche and the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche. Aston Martin fought back well in Free Practice 2 but were not quite quick enough to take the top spot, the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing managing to hold on in the final moments. The #98 Aston Martin finished top of the time sheets in FP3, however, the top seven cars (of nine in class) were split by less than a second, the three top spots held by three different manufacturers.

Our third and final article of the series picks up where the story left off, Plateaux 4 covering 1962 through to 1965.


Plateaux 4 1962-1965


Ferrari continued to dominate through the early 1960s winning 6 consecutive years between 1960 and 1965. Ford join the series with young Kiwi Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon looking to go head to head with Ferrari for the overall win. Ferrari introduce the mid-engine layout and so begins the battle of the V8 vs the V12, the artisan from Northern Italy vs the powerhouse from Detroit. Away from the front, Porsche continue to improve with additional class victories.

In 1964, Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt found themselves down in 15th place after three hours of running. The pair were in an old Ferrari 275 LM entered by NART. Jochen Rindt was a star of Formula 2 at this time and would later go on to win the F1 World Championship in 1970 whilst Masten Gregory was a very quick driver who had previous experience with both Jaguar and Aston Martin. By this point he had taken part in Le Mans nine times but finished no better than fifth in 1961 in a Porsche. He did however, have the 1960 lap record in the Maserati so there were no doubts that he had the pace.

“Le

Sitting down in 15th place, they began to fight back, carving their way through the pack. The works cars of both Ford and Ferrari all retired, primarily due to shattered brake discs but Gregory and Rindt were flying. At every fuel stop, they were both getting an earful from NART team boss Luigi Chinetti who had only authorised the duo to use at most 7500 RPM to save the engine. The pair ignored him, pushing the engine to 9000 RPM, gradually clawing their way up the field and taking the win.

Plateaux 4 was dominated by Ford this weekend Diogo Ferraro taking the first race win of the weekend in the #61 GT40 MK1. He went on to finish second in the remaining two races, a strong performance for the Portuguese driver. Shaun Lynn came home in second place in the first race just ahead of Ludovic Caron in the Shelby Cobra 289. David Hart took the second race win of the weekend in the yellow #8 Ford GT40 from Ferraro and James Cottingham in the #64 Ford GT40 MK1. Race three was a near repeat of the results with Cottingham and Ferrao taking first and second as the #51 Ford GT40 MK1 of Grant Tromans took the final step of the podium.

“Le

Plateaux 5 1966-1971


Plateaux 5 represents the domination of Ford in the late 1960s, taking four consecutive victories for the GT40. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took their first win in the GT40 MKII in 1966 starting a brief period of dominance for the Americans. A change in regulations see’s the birth of the early prototypes in 1970/1971 with the Porsche 917K taking two straight wins on the bounce going up against the likes of Alpine, Alfa Romeo and Matra. 1969 saw the last Le Mans start in which the drivers would run to their cars. A protest by Jacky Ickx in which he walked to his car rather than running, nearly getting hit in the process, forced the organisation to make a decision. The decision was made for them when Ickx won the race. The aerodynamic prototypes are still in their infancy at this stage and are incredibly tricky to drive with not enough downforce over the rear end to keep the cars stable. That said, they are seriously quick in a straight line and lap times are now averaging around 240km/h! The 917 was maxing out at 360km/h! In Grand Touring the battle continues to rage between the Porsche 911s, Porsche 914s and the Ferrari GTB and Daytonas.

“Le

In the 1960s, Denny Hulme spent the majority of his time racing at McLaren, both before and after the death of Bruce McLaren. However, there is one particular race that could have seen that relationship change dramatically. With the finish of the 1966 race in site, the blue Ford GT40 of Hulme and Ken Miles was in the lead, McLaren and Amon were sat in second. It was at this point that Henry Ford decided to organise a dead heat final, to “underline the victory of the car rather than one of its driver line-ups”. Miles slowed to let Bruce draw level along with the third place GT40 which was a few laps down. The trio crossed the line together. The organisers declared the result a victory for Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon as they had been slower in qualifying and therefore started 20 metres further down the grid and as a result covered more distance during the race. Hulme and Miles would never win Le Mans. Whilst Hulme continued to race with McLaren, Miles was killed in an accident whilst testing the new Ford J just two months later.

“Le

The racing this weekend swung in favour of the prototypes of the era, with the #69 Ligier JS3 DFV from 1971 taking the first two wins of the weekend. It was a strong performance from the Lola T70 MK3 with at least one making it into the top three in each of the races. David Hart took second place in the first race at the wheel of the #34 Lola T70 with Carlos Tavares taking third place. Jaques Nicolet took second place in race two followed by a win in race three in the Duckhams Ford. Tavares took third again in race two with Pierre Alain France rounding out the top three in race three in the #70 Lola T70.

“Le

Plateaux 6 1972-1981


By this point, there has been a big step forward in engineering and aerodynamics, with the potential for cars to hit 400km/h down the Mulsanne. As a safety precaution, the organisers limited the size of the engines to 3 litres. As a result, Matra took a trio of wins between 1972 and 1974 with the Matra Simca MS670 piloted by Henri Pescarolo, Graham Hill and Gerard Larrousse. Ford jumped back to the front in 1975 with their V8 engine befor Porsche dominate for the next two years with the Jacky Ickx driven Porsche 936. At this point, aerodynamics are becoming more refined, rather than running as much downforce as possible. In GT, the Daytona’s and Porsche’s rule before Ferrari and BMW arrive with the BB and M1 Procar respectively.

“Le

It's 1977, Le Mans was a disaster for Porsche. The Favourite car was broken and the other was running 49th. “I’ve had some great races but there’s one in which I really excelled myself,” says Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx. “Le Mans in 1977 with the Porsche 936. I’ve never driven as well in my life. It was unbelievable! The mechanics, the other drivers, everybody was in another world! And we transformed what had begun as a debacle into victory. I did double stints at night in the fog and the rain. I was on the absolute edge in the car, the circuit, the conditions. I pulled back such huge chunks of time on the Renaults, which were comfortably installed in the lead, that no one could believe their eyes! I stopped at the pits” “Do you want to change?” “No. I’ll stay in the car. And then you take charge, and nobody dares to say a word to you. Ask the Porsche engineers. They’d never seen anything like it in their life. We were running rings around the Renaults which weren’t exactly slowcoaches!”

“Le

It was a strong performance this weekend from Yves Scemama in the Toj SC 304, taking one race victory in Race two and two second place finishes in the first and third race. Roald Goethe and Stuart Hall took the first win of the weekend in the Mirage GR7. Patrice Lafargue took third place in race one followed by second place in race two with Paul Lafargue and Dieteren Lalmand wrapping up third place in Race 2 and Race 3 respectively.

It is at this point, we take a gigantic step back in time, from the screaming V10s and ground effect aero of Group C, back to where it all began in the early 1920s.


Plateaux 1 1923-1939


“Le

Plateaux 1 covers from 1923 to 1939 with representation from Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Lagonda, Bugatti, BMW and Talbot to name a few. Back then the Circuit looked very different. It was 19KM long run mostly on gravel roads with cars reaching a averaging a speed of 107 km/h. By 1939, the circuit had been cut to just over 13km and tarmac roads, average speeds were now around 155 km/h. Top speeds today reached 200 km/h at the fastest points of the circuit.

It was a time for invention and courage back then. French Engineer Jean Albert Gregoire was a pioneer in front wheel drive technology and one of the first to enter a front wheel drive car at Le Mans. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a head injury after a bad crash on a reconnaissance lap but despite this, he started the race with an enormous bandage wrapped around his head and a new unexpected team mate. He drafted in one of his mechanics to replace his team mate who was also injured in the same accident. Gregoire went on to finish seventh in his Tracta. The car may no longer be running; however, this represents some of the earliest developments in technology Le Mans has been responsible for over the years.

In recent years, Plateaux 1 has been dominated by both British and French entered Talbots but this year, BMW put up a strong fight in each of the three races. In race one, Michael Birch in the #20 1932 Talbot 105 took the win against strong competition from the #69 Bugatti Type 51 and #6 1939 BMW 328 Roadsters. Rob Spencer challenged for the lead in race two in the #21 1928 Bugatti Type 35B but was unable to beat Gareth Burnett in the #17 1931 Talbot 105. The #14 BMW 328 Roadster of Albert Otten and Diethelm Horbach rounded out the podium in third place. Burnett took the final win of the weekend in race three after a challenging race against Michael Birch and the #14 BMW 328.

“Le

Plateaux 2 1949-1956


Plateaux 2 represents cars from 1949 through 1956, the last outing for some of the great pre-war manufacturers such as Talbot. New comers Ferrari and Jaguar dominated through the early 1950s. There is an increased focus on aerodynamics and brakes to achieve the best performance in areas such as the Mulsanne Straight. The race is now attracting some of the biggest names in the business; Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn and Collins to name a few. It also began to attract other manufacturers, one of whom went on to become the most successful brand in the event’s history, Porsche.

“Le

The 1955 disaster resulted in a big overall of circuit safety, not just at Le Mans but around the world. The pit complex was raised and rebuilt further back allowing the pit straight to be widened. Whilst safety standards improved, the cars got faster, and open cockpit roadsters battled against closed cockpit coupes as average speeds now hit the 200 Km/h mark! The two Cadillacs entered by American Briggs Cunningham were the first to have radio links to the team in the pits back in 1950. That year they finished 10th and 11th respectively. Cunningham returned to the great race in the coming years and in 1953, the latest generation of the car had 400 horse power, an additional 100 horse power on the previous year. That year, the cars hit 249km/h on Les Hunaudieres. John Fitch brought the car home in third and immediately pulled up to his pit box to celebrate and join the team for champagne. It was as the celebrations began an official pointed out that he had crossed the line a couple of seconds before the 16:00 finish point and therefore still had one lap to go! Panic quickly ensued as Fitch dropped his champagne and jumped back into the car, still soaked from his earlier champagne shower! Luckily for him, fourth place was still far enough behind that he was able to re-join and complete the subsequent lap to take the flag and finish third. The Cunningham C4R is racing this weekend in the hands of Alain Ruede who achieved a best place of eighth in race three on Sunday afternoon.

“Le

As in period, Jaguar dominated each of the three races this weekend, locking out the podium in two out of three races. The #3 car of Clive Joy took two out of three wins, winning the first and second race whilst finishing second in race three. Carlos Monteverde continued to challenge Joy across the weekend, taking first place in the final race but finishing second in race one and two. Maserati made a brief appearance on the podium in race two, Richard Wilson putting the 1957 Maserati 250 on the third step having finished fourth in the first and third races.

“Le

Plateaux 3 1957-1961


Plateaux 3 represents the next step forward in sports car racing, bigger engines, more power, more speed. Cars are now averaging over 200 km/h as large capacity 6-cylinder engines or V12s become the norm. Ferrari dominated the era with 3 victories over Aston Martin and Jaguars one apiece. The smaller Maserati also fought it out with the three bigger rivals in the top category. In Grand Touring, the cars are only slightly less powerful with Porsche scoring regular class victories and class championships. The American Carroll Shelby takes his first win alongside Roy Salvadori in the Aston Martin DBR1 in 1959 as lap times begin to tumble.

“Le

Jaguar picked up another win in 1957, however there was a brief flash of brilliance at the start of the race that could have seen things go very differently. Ferrari were drafting in the best drivers from Formula 1 at the time so in 1957, Scuderia Ferrari entered a team of Maurice Trintignant, Mike Hawthorn, Luigi Musso, Phil Hill and Peter Collins. Collins quickly became a favourite with Enzo himself and in 1957, he started the race. Collins ran the sprint across the track, jumping into his 335MM and screamed off down the track, the 390bhp V12 roaring as he accelerated off into the distance. Just four minutes later, he screamed down the start finish straight at 300 km/h, close to 180mph! Despite a standing start, he had smashed the previous lap record. Just two laps later though, disaster struck. The Ferrari had blown a piston and would not re-join the race.

“Le

Despite domination in period, Ferrari only took one win this weekend with Lukas Halusa taking the first race win in the Ferrari 250 GTO “Breadvan”. Roger Wills and David Clark finished a close second before going on to win race two and three in the #68 Lotus XV. The Breadvan went on to finish second in the third race after a good scrap with Clark and Wills midway through the race.

In the first of this three-part special feature, Speed Chills View review the 2018 Le Mans Classic, an event firmly established in the motorsport calendar. Take a look at some of the pictures and the roundup of all the on-track action from the weekend.

The Le Mans Classic made its debut back in 2002. At the time, it was a financial disaster for Patrick Peter and Peter Auto, the organisers. Back then, just 30,000 people came to spectate the event over one weekend in September. However, that first event sparked an interest and word began to spread. 16 years later, the Le Mans Classic has firmly established itself in both the historic racing community and motorsport community as a whole with over 140,000 people expected to attend this year with 10 previous winners of the Le Mans 24 Hour set to compete including Roman Dumas, Loic Duval and Jochen Mass.

“Le

The Le Mans Classic is a truly special event. Le Mans is one of the few tracks in the world that is steeped in so much history. The 24 Hour itself, was first run in 1923 and all though the track has changed several times since then, this weekend, some of those original contenders have returned.

The entry list for the Le Mans Classic is huge, that’s the only way to describe it. This year there are circa 750 racing cars on track with over a thousand drivers taking part across the three days.

First of all, there are six “Plateaux”, grids too you and I, spanning 60 years of competition, from the early pre-World War 2 era of the 1920s and 1930s all the way through to the early 1980s. In addition to that, there are a number of separate races for classic Jaguars and Porsche along with a dedicated grid to the mighty Group C era of the 1980s and early 1990s.

New for 2018 is the Global Endurance Legends Series, at this stage, they only featured for two 30-minute parade sessions, however expect a lot more from them in the coming years. The Masters Endurance Legends series held its first UK race at Brands Hatch earlier this year having been unveiled late in 2017.

In short, the Le Mans Classic is the only event in the world where you can watch anything from Pre-War Bentley’s and Bugatti’s all the way through the classic sports car era of the 1960s to Group C and beyond to the early days of LMP alongside GT1 and GT2 of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Le

The action began on Friday morning, 70 cars from the newly formed Global Endurance Legends Series took to the circuit behind the safety car for the first of two 30-minute sessions and what an incredible site it was. The field was led by a bright Yellow Ferrari 333SP in the hands of Michel Lecourt and despite it being a parade, it quickly became apparent a number of small battles were emerging, Andy Bruce in the Spark McLaren F1 GTR for one, going three abreast down the Mulsanne Straight with the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 and a Porsche 993 GT2 Evo at almost 180 miles an hour. Le Mans 24 Hour veteran Emmanuel Collard made his return to Le Mans in the very Toyota TS020 GT-One that he drove here back in 1999 with Martin Brundle and Vincenzo Sospiri. Unfortunately, the car retired part way through the race however the sister #3 car finished second that year behind the #15 BMW V12 LMR of Yannick Dalmas, Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini.

A number of fan favourites from previous years also took part in the parade including the ex-Colin McRae Ferrari 550 GT1, the 2003 Bentley Speed 8, the Audi R8 and Peugeot 908. Manufacturers from the modern era of the FIA World Endurance Championship were well represented across the GT1, GT2, GT3 and LM GT categories including the Aston Martin DBR9 GT1, Ferrari F430, AF Corse Ferrari 458 GTE and Porsche 997 GT3 RSR.

“Le

Next up, it was the return of the mighty Group C cars, a fan favourite for obvious reasons at the Le Mans Classic. A number of iconic liveries and brands made a welcome return to Le Mans including a host of Silk Cut liveried Jaguar XJR’s, Peugeot 905’s and Porsche 962’s. Regular FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 driver Michael Lyons returned in the 1991 Gebhardt C91, taking victory in the only race of the weekend. Shaun Lynn, father of Aston Martin factory driver Alex Lynn took second place in the 1987 Jaguar XJR-9 from the 1989 XJR11 of Ralf Kelleners and Ivan Vercourtere. They made for a spectacular sight this weekend with some pretty close racing throughout the grid. The ground effect aero causing the cars to stick to the track as they made their way down Dunlop Hill or through Porsche Curves at incredible speed was mind blowing. The 908 Peugeot’s were a highlight for many during the Group C sessions, their naturally aspirated V10’s screaming akin to an early 90s Formula 1 car with up shifts that sounded like canon fire, piercing the ear drums of anyone trackside at the time.

“Le

There was so much talk pre-race about this result being preordained, that Toyota – as the lone manufacturer still competing with a hybrid in LMP1 – was shooting at an open goal. But the fact remains that Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso and his hard-working team-mates Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima still had to conquer this toughest of races. Finally, Toyota banished the 30-year curse. It won the Le Mans 24 Hours, and even without Porsche and Audi to beat, it didn’t really matter that the Japanese giant walked it – because this was a satisfying near-perfect performance.

The two TS050 Hybrids were in a race of their own, which was hardly unexpected. But what could only have been hoped for rather than predicted was how smooth the race proved to be for the team. Apart from a scare for the #7 car an hour and a half before the finish, little went wrong.

The most dangerous moment was the start, when Andre Lotterer’s Rebellion R-13 nudged Buemi’s #8 car at Turn 1 before his front bodywork blew off and took out the DragonSpeed BR1 of Ben Hanley at the Dunlop Chicane. Buemi survived the moment unscathed, followed team-mate Mike Conway through the chicane and the pair began building their lead down the Mulsanne. Twenty-four hours later the winning car was 12 laps clear of the best-of-the-rest Rebellion team, which finished a superb third and fourth with its new ORECA-built cars.

One small hitch for Toyota was that through Saturday evening and into the night, it was the #7 car that was leading. This wasn’t to the script, with victory for Alonso in #8 an unspoken priority for Toyota, to maximise exposure for a win that might have lacked flavour without the dash of superstar spice.

But this is the point when Alonso earned his victory, which he needed to achieve to take the second step towards his much-discussed triple crown target. A gap of two minutes had opened between the cars, but in the darkest hours the two-time F1 world champion got his head down and proved conclusively that he was completely home at Le Mans. He played a pivotal part in that gap coming down, to the point that Nakajima could take the lead from Kamui Kobayashi at Mulsanne Corner in the morning. Alonso had shown his class.

Having lost the lead, either by stage management or pure form, the #7 car endured a nervy final quarter of the race. First, Jose Maria Lopez spun at the Dunlop Chicane, then with 90 minutes left Kobayashi suddenly slowed. It turned out he should have pitted, but mistakenly started another lap. The Japanese had to slow to save fuel and ensure he’d complete the extra lap. After a careful tour and a standard stop, he was back up to speed, but now off the lead lap. A stop-go penalty for exceeding the prescribed LMP1 hybrid stint length rubbed salt in Kobayashi’s embarrassment and the car finished two laps down on its sister.

At 3pm, Nakajima crossed the line to end Toyota’s Le Mans angst once and for all. The sense of relief spread through the garage and surely into the giant grandstand opposite the pits. The team would have been humiliated not to have won this race given the lack of opposition, but few would begrudge Toyota after so many years trying to win the greatest race in the world. The victory was fully deserved.

As for Alonso, he now needs to conquer the Indianapolis 500 to complete his triple crown set, beside his two Monaco GPs wins and the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours. Who would bet against him achieving it?

As Alonso celebrated a well-earned victory, his old McLaren team-mate Jenson Button rued his bad luck in the #11 SMP Racing BR1. A long early stop had left the car dead last and without hope of a decent result, but to SMP’s credit the team pushed on regardless. Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin drove superbly through the night and into the morning – only for the engine to let go in the final hour with Button at the wheel. But this was still a promising debut for the car. Let’s hope Button returns for another crack with SMP next year.

LMP2: G-Drive dominates

The G-Drive ORECA of Jean-Eric Vergne, Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola dominated the secondary prototype division to score a long awaited first Le Mans win for this excellent team. The trio led from the first hour and was never threatened during a remarkably clean run.

The G-Drive car held a comfortable two-lap lead over the #36 Signature-Alpine car, with Tristan Gommendy just holding off a final nail-biting charge from Loic Duval in the #39 Graff entry to complete the podium. Meanwhile there was heartbreak for the pole-winning IDEC ORECA following a strong race. A gearbox problem forced the car into retirement in hour 22.

GTE: Porsche proves ‘Pink Pigs’ do fly

Porsche might have been missing from LMP1 this year, but the German giant still dominated the GTE class at Le Mans. The retro liveries featured on its two Manthey-run cars were well received by all Le Mans fans, and it was the #92 911 featuring the ‘Pink Pig’ colours last seen on a long-tail Porsche 917 in 1971 that led most of the race to secure a resounding victory. Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor drove beautifully all the way.

The #91 car, running in the old Group C 956/962 ‘Rothmans’ colours, had a more eventful race which featured the most engaging battle of Le Mans 2018. On Sunday morning, the #68 Ford GT of Sebastien Bourdais caught Fred Makowiecki in the Porsche and looked determined to pass. But ‘Mako’ put up a robust defence – too robust for most onlookers. He weaved down the Mulsanne in an attempt to break Bourdais’ tow, but that did not stop the Indycar star pulling off the move of the race when he passed the Porsche on the outside of the fast Indianapolis right-hand kink, only for the Porsche to draft back past on the run out of Arnage. Twice Makowiecki edged the Ford off the track in his efforts to keep hold of second place, but somehow the stewards waved away any concerns.

The #91 Porsche duly delivered a one-two for the marque, with Fords #68 and #67 finishing in a class three-four.

Porsche also claimed the GTE Am class after a similarly dominant performance by the Dempsey-Proton team. The #77 911 of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer was never threatened during a close-as-perfect performance. As the car crossed the line, team patron and Hollywood star Patrick Dempsey roared on the pitwall in delight.

Average race, unforgettable result

In truth, this was hardly a classic Le Mans 24 Hours in terms of the battle for the overall win – because there wasn’t one, other than the (admittedly genuine) tension that existed between the sister Toyotas. Likewise, LMP2 wasn’t as close as we’ve seen in the past, which left GTE Pro to provide most of the entertainment.

But still, this was a Le Mans race no one will forget, firstly because of the significance of the result for Toyota, which becomes the second Japanese manufacturer after Mazda in 1991 to win Le Mans, and also because of Fernando Alonso’s brilliant performance. The Spaniard’s presence lifted this race and his star quality added to the lustre of his team’s victory.

Bravo Toyota, bravo Fernando.

Morning has broken at Le Mans – but the same cannot to be said of the two Toyota TS050 HYBRIDs… The pair have survived the night and continue to lead the 24 Hours with less than a quarter of the race still to run. The manufacturer remains on target to end its curse at a race it has been trying to win for more than 30 years.

It was a relatively calm night at the Circuit de la Sarthe, with remarkably few major incidents to report. The #7 Toyota had led, with the #8 sister entry that includes F1 superstar Fernando Alonso among its line-up finding itself playing a support role. That wasn’t in the script.

But in the morning, during the 16th hour, the order switched around. Whether it was stage-managed or genuine, Kazuki Nakajima passed Kamui Kobayashi into Mulsanne Corner. Both cars would later be penalised with a one-minute stop-go for speeding in a slow zone, but with more than 10 laps on the pair of Rebellion R-13s still running third and fourth it made little difference to the complexion of a race that appears very much in Toyota’s grip.

One incident of note was Ben Hanley’s accident in the DragonSpeed BR1. The car slithered off and hit the barriers hard. Hanley did well to nurse the car back to the pits, but it was in a sorry state. With SMP’s problems with its pair of BR1s and the troubles that befell the Ginetta challenge in the early stages, the long-time LMP2 leader is now running fifth overall. The G-Drive ORECA of Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov is a lap clear of the Panis-Barthez Ligier that is chasing it.

GTE continues to be dominated by Porsche. The #92 ‘Pink Pig’ entry still leads the Pro category, a couple of minutes clear of the sister ‘Rothmans’ 911. A pair of the Ford GTs continue to chase, seemingly in vain, while one of the Corvettes is in the mix too. But with the Dempsey-Proton #77 Porsche leading GTE Am too, it’s the Stuttgart marque’s race to lose.

Midnight at Le Mans. So far – so far – it’s been a perfect race for Toyota Gazoo Racing (if anything is going to tempt fate, it’s saying that!). The pair of TS050 HYBRIDs have been circulating just seconds apart through the evening, although the #7 car has opened a half-minute lead over the sister #8 after a heroic effort from Kamui Kobayashi. As we write, Sebastian Buemi has returned to the cockpit of #8 and is attempting to claw back the deficit.

Whatever we might think about Toyota ‘managing’ this race, in which it has no serious opposition, the two cars are absolutely not cruising in a glorified parade. The pace is unrelenting, both line-ups knowing full well they each need to be the one holding the advantage later in the race when surely the call will come for the team to hold station. And that’s not forgetting that fate can throw a spanner in the works for both. This race can still bite, despite Toyota’s dominance – as the team knows from all too bitter experience.

But what will Toyota do if the cars do run trouble-free? Cynics have been saying all week that Fernando Alonso is ‘destined’ to win this race, to ensure maximum column inches (and SEO-friendly web pages) for the manufacturer that is so desperate to end its 30 years of hurt at Le Mans. The man himself lived up to expectations with his first race stints and led the race in #8. But currently the cars are running in the ‘wrong’ order. At this still early stage (we’re not yet at the half-way mark), we wonder: if #7 continues to lead into the morning and tomorrow afternoon, will Toyota’s hierarchy make the dreaded call and hold it back to change the order? Only time will tell.

The battle for the best of the rest has sadly lost some of its steam after SMP Racing’s challenge skated off in a terrifying high-speed spin at the Porsche Curves which ended up in the barriers. Poor Matevos Isaakyan looked distraught after backing his BR1 into the barriers at the first right-hander. The incident has left Rebellion’s pair of R13s secure in third and fourth places. All they can do now is keep going – and hope the wheels come off Toyota’s hybrid train.

Jenson Button in the second SMP entry has impressed, despite starting his stint 60th and bog last after his car’s long delays early in the race. The charismatic former F1 champ posted the tweet of the race following his debut stints at Le Mans. “Eyes still wide open 50 minutes after getting out of the car, that’s what a 3hr 40min stint will do, I guess!” he tweeted. The car has no hope of a decent result, but the place has clearly made an impression on Button, nevertheless. Let’s hope he returns for another shot next year.

In LMP2, G-Drive appears to have this race in a stranglehold, but as we’ve seen so many times before that can all change in an instant. As it stands, G-Drive’s #26 ORECA, led by former Toro Rosso F1 ace Jean-Eric Vergne, has a clear lead. The #23 Panis-Barthez Dallara is second ahead of the class pole-winning IDEC ORECA.

Another former grand prix star discovered how Le Mans can bite during his first LMP2 stint. Juan Pablo Montoya had been enjoying himself in United Autosport’s Dallara – until he stuffed it at, of all places, Indianapolis. The two-time Indy 500 winner self-deprecatingly said he’d “run out of talent” during the incident, although the car is still in the race.

GTE has entertained throughout the race, although right now Porsche has the class in its grip. The ‘Pink Pig’ retro-liveried #92 car continues to lead a Stuttgart 1-2-3, with BMW’s new M8 showing a good turn of pace on its Le Mans debut.

Porsche also leads GTE Am thanks to the Dempsey-Proton 911, ahead of the #84 Ferrari which includes former Renault and Jordan grand prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella among its line-up.

Only nine of the 24 hours have passed. This race can still have a sting in its tail. Everyone at Toyota Gazoo Racing will be hoping that absolutely won’t be the case this year.

Early evening at Le Mans and all is right with the world. The rain that threatened in the first hour came to nothing – and Toyota lead the greatest motor race in the world as it expected to, with Fernando Alonso looking comfortable in his first race stint on the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. But it all could have been so different in the opening seconds of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The #8 Toyota TS050 HYBRID started from pole position, with Sebastian Buemi accelerating side by side with the sister #7 car of Mike Conway as they took the start at 3pm. But the privateer LMP1 hordes behind them were hotter on the gas, and Andre Lotterer came oh so close to ending Alonso’s Le Mans dream before it had even begun.

Lotterer’s Rebellion R13 was so quick it got a little too close into the sweeping first turn, nudging into the back of the #8 Toyota. Buemi wasn’t too unsettled by the moment and followed Conway through the Dunlop chicane to establish Toyota’s expected position of dominance at the front. But behind the hybrids, all hell broke loose.

The contact loosened Lotterer’s front bodywork and with a lack of downforce he ran wide on the exit for Turn 1 and was off line for the chicane. As he braked, the bodywork shot off and knocked Ben Hanley’s DragonSpeed BR Engineering BR1 into a spin. In the first seconds, leading LMP1 cars were in the wars – and Toyota’s famous Le Mans curse had come close to returning in the most dramatic way!

As it was, there is nothing for Alonso to fear. For now, at least. Buemi would take the lead from Conway in the first hour to make serene progress at the front. During the second hour a slow zone caused by Mike Wainwright crashing the GTE Pro Am leading Porsche into the tyres at Indianapolis allowed Conway to snatch back the lead. In the third hour, Buemi would hand over to Alonso in second place, with Jose Maria Lopez in for Conway at the front. There is little between the pair and indeed, as we write Alonso has taken the lead.

As fans think about what to eat for dinner and perhaps cracking open another beer, all appears fine in Toyota’s world. But don’t think for a second the TS050 drivers are cruising. Judging by their lap times, Toyota’s belief that racing at 100 per cent pace is the only way to win Le Mans – even if they have no realistic opposition other than the race itself.

Behind them, the expected battle for best-of-the-rest honours is coming to pass. SMP Racing and Rebellion are going at it for third overall. Early on, SMP’s #17 BR1 held the advantage in the experienced hands of Stephane Sarrazin, but the #3 Rebellion of Thomas Laurent took the place in the second hour and Mathias Beche is currently maintaining that position as the race thunders through its fourth hour.

The #3 Rebellion, which completed the first lap without that front bodywork, has recovered well from its dramatic start and currently runs fifth in the hands of Bruno Senna, ahead of the DragonSpeed BR1 which has also bounced back from its spin.

But the same fortune has not befallen the second SMP Racing BR1, which includes Jenson Button among its drivers. An engine problem has left the team working frantically in the garage to get the car back out on track – but it’s not looking good.

Button described the “sense of failure” within the team. “It’s quite disappointing,” he said with some understatement. “The problem is deep in the power unit. Even catching the back of the LMP2 field will be tough now. It’ll be a test session for us now.” The 2009 F1 World Champion will at least hope to gain his first experience of the Le Mans 24 Hours at some point in the evening.

The top LMP2 car runs seventh overall following an assured start from former grand prix driver Jean-Eric Vergne. The #26 G-Drive ORECA is currently in the hands of Andrea Pizzitola.

But the real interest in the race is in GTE Pro. Images of these wonderful supercars running in trains down the Mulsanne have been among the best highlights of Le Mans 2018 so far, and as expected the battle at the front is between Porsche and Ford. The retro-livery #91 ‘Pink Pig’ and #92 ‘Rothmans’ 911s are running together at the front, but the Ford GTs remain very much in touch as the race settles in for the evening.

In the GTE Am class Wainwright’s accident in the Gulf Porsche changed the complexion of the class. Ben Barker had established the car in the class lead before his team-mate undid his hard work. The car is back in the race, but now the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche currently heads the pack.

These are still the early skirmishes of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours. There’s so much still to play out and, as ever, you can’t take your eyes off this race for a minute.

Race morning. Not long to go now before the start of the biggest race of the year. But after the intensity of qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday, what should we look out for in the prototype and GTE divisions?

LMP1

First things first, Toyota appears to be as dominant as we expected. The two TS050 HYBRIDs had a clear pace advantage in the day and night qualifying sessions, with Kazuki Nakajima setting an incredible pole position time of 3m15.377s to claim the top spot in the #8 car. Kamui Kobayashi wasn’t exactly hanging around either in the #7 entry, but his best lap was exactly two seconds off his fellow Japanese’s best effort.

And what of Fernando Alonso, the man who is likely to be the focus of so much attention during the next 24 hours? Well, the Spaniard knuckled down and learnt all about the incredible 8.4-mile circuit. The two-time Formula 1 world champion is known for his work ethic and he has left no stone unturned to be ready for this race. He completed an impressive 48 laps over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, trying all types of tyres in the process – and he showed a clear improvement in single-lap pace, too. By the end of Thursday his best lap of 3m18.021s was considered more than respectable.

Expect Alonso to more than hold his own during the race. The F1 star shouldn’t be the weakest link for the #8 team.

Behind the Toyotas, we can expect a tight and exciting battle between the two leading privateer teams running non-hybrid LMP1s. There was little in it between SMP Racing and Rebellion in qualifying, the latter’s ORECA-built car just edging the Dallara-built BR1s on Thursday. The teams are unlikely to threaten Toyota, but they should be a in great race of their own. Will reliability be the deciding factor about who contends for a podium finish? Yes, more than likely.

LMP2

Grid positions mean little in a 24-hour race, but qualifying is vital to give teams and drivers experience of track conditions and assess their pace. The surprise pole position winner in LMP2 therefore won’t be getting carried away, but IDEC’s ORECA will clearly be a contender for the class win after the team’s great form on Wednesday and Thursday.

On paper, there are stronger and better know driver line-ups than Paul-Loup Chatin, Memo Rojas and Paul Lafargue (the latter is the son of the team owner), but the trio have shown a good turn of speed from the Le Mans test day a couple of weeks ago through the practice and qualifying sessions this week. If they can maintain that pace, ably supported by team manager and former LMP1 racer Nicolas Minassian, IDEC could convert its pole position into a very special result.

But as ever, the class is likely to be wide open. ORECA’s chassis has maintained it advantage it enjoyed last year over the Dallaras, but the Italian cars are at least a little more competitive. Expect the unexpected from the most unpredictable class at Le Mans.

GTE

Porsche’s retro-liveried Manthey-run 911s were fastest, and from what we’ve seen so far, the German cars will be fighting it out for GTE class honours with the Ford GTs. With four cars in each camp in the PRO class, this fight promises to be one for the ages.

But Corvette’s duo of entries will still be hoping to mix it with the class frontrunners too. On its 19th consecutive appearance at the race, you can never discount the American cars, especially if they have clean, untroubled races. With their experience, a Corvette could well be in a position to steal the glory from Porsche and Ford.

Aston Martin? Perhaps not. The new Vantage has an impressive and extensive testing programme behind it, but so far at Le Mans 2018 it has been well off the pace in GTE. The British manufacturer to a famous class win this time last year – but that looks more than a long shot this year.

Still, with this race you just never know. You can bet the experienced Aston squad will be doing all it can to learn about its new car over the course of the 24 Hours, with one on the rest of the World Endurance Championship Superseason, and one on the race next year. Again, reliability can bring great rewards at Le Mans, too. With a clean run, the team might find itself with a nice surprise on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier in the week ahead of the first practice session for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans we caught up with Mike Conway to find out about some of the preparation work that has gone into the race and hear his thoughts on how things will pan out for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

”For me personally, I am as prepared as I always am. I am not approaching it any differently apart from that every year, you feel a bit more prepared. You know what’s coming I suppose. You kind of prepare for the worst situation, knowing that anything could be thrown at you. It’s Le Mans.”

”The team has done a lot of perpetration with the drivers as well so that if something does go wrong, and the systems fail, then we know what to do to get the car home and back to the pits. With all that work in place and the work that has gone on through winter testing, we just need to go out and do it. We are now just counting down the days until Saturday now. It’s really fun though and I’m really looking forward to getting out on track later today to get some more laps done. I am hoping for some mixed conditions because you never know what could be thrown at you on Saturday and Sunday.”

”There was a 2-lap gap to the privateers at Spa but they were closer at test day and I think they will be pretty close to be honest. They run pretty quick through Sector 1 and Sector 2 as they are running a lot more downforce than us, so they will be quick through there. But of course, they are at a disadvantage as well. They have one lap less running per stint and have a longer fuel time and stuff to meet so we’ve just got to keep that in mind all the time. They may be quicker at the start, so be it. We just need to live with it and fight when we can fight. I think it will be a good race.”

”2018 is an important year for us. Obviously the last few years it just hasn’t happened, but we’ve always shown that we have the fight, the spirit and the speed to be there. We just now need to execute the win and the 1-2 finish. A winning result for the team is a 1-2, and that is a bloody hard thing to achieve, two cars over the line and on the same lap close together. That’s the objective and that’s what we will be trying to do, we will be pushing as hard as we possibly can for that.”

”We have tested loads of system failures and punctures, any scenario we could think of, over the winter break. All of the issues were sprung upon us unknowingly. Initially you think it could be a problem with the simulator and you find yourself crabbing down the road at speed, then you realise you’ve had a puncture or the suspension has collapsed or something. It’s good to get prepared because there is a high risk of getting a puncture at this place and you can destroy the car if you try and recover the car too quick. Hopefully its all enough and it will get us a good result.”

”We saw last year that the LMP2’s are quicker at the end of the straight, especially with a fuel lift so if we haven’t quite got a move done and have to lift to conserve fuel, then the LMP1 and LMP2 cars will get back by. They have more top speed and more power so it’s always a case of juggling where about we are in the corner, whether we fight them or let them by. Of course, we have the advantage of over boosting and things like that to make sure we get the move done so that’s definitely on our side. But they have great speed through a lot of the corners so if we don’t get by through Porsche Curves, chances are we won’t pass them through turn one, possibly all the way down to turn 7 before we can get the move done. You’ll see them go through traffic just as easy as us so it’s going to be a close fight in LMP1 and LMP2.”

”We have discussed team orders within the team, they are always in place to make sure we achieve the best result for the team. We don’t want to risk any un-necessary fights amongst ourselves that cost the result for one of the cars. So sometimes, it’s the right move to make the call to bring both cars home in one piece. We should be able to race properly for 95% of the race, however, things change during the race so much that it is incredibly hard to plan an effective team strategy from the get go. At one point, you may have a 40 second advantage but you could easily lose that with a safety car, and let’s face it, there have been a few at Le Mans over the years. We will focus on running our race and see where we are by the final hour. As drivers, we are smart enough to make the right move and think about the big picture. We’ll do whatever we need to do. We’ll see how it all pans out. Le Mans is an open book. Hopefully we’re all together close to the end.”

”The passion and excitement surrounding Le Mans is definitely still there for us as a team. The car has been developed around this race but as soon as it is done, our focus will shift to Silverstone. Le Mans is an incredible place, the excitement, the occasion and the track. It’s special. You don’t get to drive it whenever you want, it’s a special place and all the drivers love being here. There is an excitement within the team. It’s intense and intimidating but it is what we live for. You want to be the guy that is driving the car the wrong way down the pit lane a couple of minutes after three on Sunday afternoon on the way to the podium. You want to be on the top step, seeing all the fans down there. It is an incredible moment and for the team, they just want a 1-2 finish. It is entirely open between the two cars as to who takes the win, so we will wait and see who is in the best position come Sunday afternoon.”

Anthony Davidson is a frustrated man at Le Mans this year. The Briton has been an integral part of Toyota's Le Mans campaign in recent years and is widely considered to be one of the finest sports car racers in the world. Nevertheless, this year he finds himself on the sidelines, having been forced to make way for Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso, who has taken his seat in the #8 TS050 HYBRID. Speed Chills caught up with Davidson at the circuit on Wednesday to hear how he feels about the situation.

"I know that I want to race, and I know that when I drove the laps here in practice a couple of weeks ago, I clicked straight back into it. I was quick and sat top of the time sheets for 20 or 30 minutes. It all just felt natural.

Short Image Description

"I’ve done a lot of miles in the car already this year. I took the new lap record at Aragon during winter testing, so I am still fast and still committed to the team, but I now find myself in this situation. It is a bit strange, however, it is not the first time in my career that I’ve been a reserve driver. It is however, strange finding myself here as a reserve driver, especially as I know this place so well. I’ve done 10 Le Mans. I should have won it at least once or twice, so it feels strange to not have the chance to win this time round. But, a lot can happen in sports cars. I might be back with the team, you never know. It’s a long way to go.

"It was completely the team’s decision to move me in to the reserve driver role. It was not my decision not to race. I was told it was me that had to step aside for Fernando, so I have to respect the team. It is a shame, however – that’s the way motorsport is sometimes. It was a tough decision for the team, all six drivers were performing well so it was never going to be an easy decision to move one of their top driver’s asides. It’s a strange situation, I won five races last year in 2017. But basically, Fernando had to be here, and he had to take one of our drives. It’s as simple as that. Its unlucky that it was me but that’s just life. If you were going to step aside for anyone in the world, then Fernando is not a bad driver to step aside for so that makes it a bit easier. If it was Joe Bloggs, then I would be annoyed. It is like the world wants Fernando to win Le Mans this year. He’s on a quest for the triple crown and he finds himself here with the team. Fernando had limited options once Audi and Porsche both dropped out of the series so there was only one team to go for and it was this team. This is his best opportunity to win Le Mans.

"I know I was performing at my best and I am proud of what I achieved last year. As I said, I won five races and in particular, the last two were very good for me. I couldn’t have given any more. My family are happy to see a bit more of me now and my wife is happy that I am not out on track risking my life. Obviously, Le Mans is not the safest race in the world. It is dangerous. I’ve ended up in hospital over the years. I broke my back in 2012. Le Mans is dangerous, and it can bite you. It’s probably the most challenging circuit we go to in terms of safety and the drivers respect that.

"We have put a lot of work into testing and development over the winter. It is essentially the same car as last year but with a few small developments. Primarily, we have improved the usability for the drivers and the engineers. We have tested numerous scenarios and if anything goes wrong, we can get the car home. Winter testing has been hard work, it has been quite involved and it is the work that no one gets to see. That is the time when we, as drivers, really make our money. It’s bloody hard work. We do long tests, 36-hour sessions with five or six drivers and we don’t stop. That’s the stuff under the radar.

"We’ve been testing at Portimao and Aragon primarily and the car has been performing really well, as it was last year. It’s the same package but it is nicer and easier to drive. We have been focusing on all the possibilities that could go wrong. We have been approaching it like Nasa would approach a space mission, looking at anything that could possibly go wrong, and we have developed a backup plan for each situation.

"We have learnt a lot about the car, we know it inside out like never before. We have been given manuals on the steering system, the switches, the controls. We have learnt how to repair the car with the onboard kit we carry. We are completely ready to make sure that we are on top of any possible situation that could go wrong. Of course, there are things outside of our control, force majeure and all that and with this race, there is always a chance of that. But that said, we are in a much better place as a whole team than ever before.

"Everything that you could think of that could possibly go wrong, we have tried our best to replicate in testing and simulation work to prepare for it. It has been quite good fun actually in many ways. Only a select few people within the team know what’s going to happen. The drivers and mechanics were not aware, and scenarios would be thrown in as a surprise to see how people would react and perform. You could never relax, you always had to have your wits about you and be focused. The issues were rarely announced and there were of course times when the team and drivers got it wrong and would have ended up in a situation where the car could not be recovered. We learnt the hard way and that’s the best way to learn. It has been absolutely fascinating as a driver to experience. I had some input into it all and fell down a few times!

"What’s the saying team Sky use? Train hard, race easy. It takes time to learn and defeat only makes you stronger. By going through that defeat, we have realised how hard things are and how to recover from a situation. If you turned up and just won by luck and you don’t know how you win then that is sometimes more dangerous as you are unprepared for the event. In terms of development, we don’t necessarily need to make the car quicker. We know it has the pace to win, the main focus has been on reliability and understanding the trials and tribulations of Le Mans. All those defeats the team have suffered, they have been pretty cruel over the years, but it makes you stronger.

"If we were to have the 2016 situation right now, in exactly the same way, we would have still won the race. Everyone would be able to recover it. And what happened to Nico last year, we would be able to recover that now. We would have got back to the pits. We are now set to make sure that we can get the car home. It’s that never give up attitude and you don’t see it in any other racing, certainly anything I’ve done and its incredible to see that if those two situations happen now then it is fully recoverable.

"It’s a shame for me not to be out there, I feel readier than ever. Even if we had Porsche and Audi here now or any other quality brands, I feel that we are in the best position to win. I am here as a reserve driver, that’s it. I’m not going to polish it up, I am here as the back-up in case something goes wrong with one of the other drivers. I wouldn’t want any other roles or responsibilities. We’ve got Alex Wurz to be the team advisor/ambassador. I’m here to just hang around in case anything goes wrong. It may be my easiest Le Mans ever, you never know!

"There was never an option to run a third car this year. I don’t know the exact reason, but you would say, if there was ever a year to run 3/4/5/6 cars, it would be this year, but it was never an option. You will have to ask some other people to get an answer for that question, it sure would have helped me if there was a third car.

"All the other teams, with the exception of ByKolles are new. We are such a well-polished team now. We have learnt from our bad experiences and it has put us into this situation we are in today. I’m not saying that nothing will go wrong because you can never predict that. We are however in the best situation we could possibly be. We cannot prepare for a sudden downpour at one corner when you’re on slicks, or someone’s engine blowing and dropping oil all over the track and you go flying off into the barrier. You cannot foresee things like that, but we are trained as drivers in this team to report any oil or a slippery surface on track, we report that back to the team who will pass that on.

"We have done some work on the clutch as well, we have burnt it to a crisp in testing and it is bullet proof. So, if some guy jumps out in front of us in the pitlane pretending to be a marshal, we can recover from that and it won’t be a problem.

"I think the best and worst memories are from 2016, I drove my best Le Mans I ever have. Bringing the car back to the front and leading the race. You know when you have driven 100% and in terms of personal satisfaction, it was my best race. And I had that feeling of winning Le Mans, I could taste it. I was just waiting for Kazuki to pass the line before it was taken away. But that feeling, I would take physical pain over that any day."

This time, surely. That’s the overriding sentiment of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours at the start of the biggest week of the motor sporting year. Toyota will finally banish the 30-year curse and win the big one – won’t it?

Well, it really should. The Japanese giant is the last manufacturer standing in the top-class LMP1 hybrid category, following the withdrawal of both Porsche and Audi over the course of the past two years. For pace alone, the band of plucky privateers and their non-hybrid LMP1s really shouldn’t be able to live with the pair of TS050 HYBRIDS.

Then consider Fernando Alonso, the McLaren F1 driver considered by many to be the greatest active racing driver in the world. At 37, the Spaniard’s hopes of a third F1 world title have probably slipped away with McLaren’s failures to deliver him a competitive car. Therefore, his focus has switched to motor sport’s unofficial Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, which he has won twice, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours. All-round racing greatness awaits if he can equal the feat of winning all three that only Graham Hill has previously managed.

Alonso has a great shot at ticking off Le Mans this week. Fastest at the recent test day, the great man knows only misfortune (and a rapid team of drivers in the sister TS050, of course) stands in his way of glory on his debut at the greatest race in the world.

But that’s where the intrigue is: Toyota’s misfortune at Le Mans is the stuff of legend. Agonisingly close to the tune of just three minutes in 2016, it missed out last year too, following four previous occasions in the past three decades when the manufacturer looked set to win this race. Nothing can be taken for granted at La Sarthe. The team must conquer the 8.4-mile track first, but also its own psychological barriers to finally deliver what should be a victory of sheer relief on Sunday afternoon.

Privateers on parade

If Toyota does falter – and history shows quite plainly it might – the privateer entries could pick up the pieces for an incredible Le Mans story.

Rebellion is established as the best of the privateer teams in long-distance endurance racing at this level and has three top-six Le Mans finishes to its name already. Its pair of ORECA-built Gibson-powered prototypes mixed it with the Toyotas at the test day and with drivers such as former Audi race winner Andre Lotterer among the line-up, the experience to achieve greatness is in its grasp. The rules favour Toyota and its hybrid, in terms of stint length as well as out-right pace – but if Rebellion can run a clean race for at least one of its cars, you never know.

Of the other privateers in the top LMP1 category for the fastest prototypes, Bykolles Racing’s singleton entry and the three BR Engineering cars will all hope to be contenders. Ex-F1 world champion Jenson is among those hoping to spring a surprise, driving for the Russian SMP Racing team. In Mikhael Aleshin and fellow F1 old boy Vitaly Petrov, he has quick team-mates, but as is the case for all the privateers, avoiding new-car reliability problems is a tough task at Le Mans. New racers have won first time out at the 24 Hours in the past – but not often. Top six finishes and podium aspirations are more realistic than a victory. But again, with this race, you never know.

Can LMP2 pull off the shock of the century?

If Toyota does implode once again, it might be just as likely that an overall winner comes from the slower LMP2 prototype class. Once upon a time, such a suggestion would have been scoffed at. But last year, it almost happened – and with doubt always nagging away at Toyota and the LMP1 privateers coming to the race so unproven, the reliable LMP2 brigade of seasoned campaigners could be in with a shout of an unforgettable result.

Among the entries, the throng of teams running ORECAs could all contend for the class victory (and maybe more), but the good news is the Ligiers should be more competitive than last year following an aerodynamics rules break. Driver talent in this class is becoming richer by the season and boasts this year such stars as Le Mans debutant and former F1 grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya, a veteran of the Daytona 24 Hours in the US. As ever, the form guide suggests the class is wide open.

To spot the difference between LMP1 and LMP2, look out for the blue number squares instead of red for the secondary prototypes, and the ‘P2’ stickers on their flanks.

GTE: supercar heaven for the big manufacturers

While LMP1 has struggled to retain interest for car manufacturers frightened off by multi-million dollar budgets to build sophisticated hybrids, the ‘grand touring’ GTE category for familiar-looking supercars continues to attract massive attention from some of the world’s most famous makes.

This year, the race within a race presents Porsche vs Ford vs Ferrari vs Corvette vs BMW vs Aston Martin… what a stunning prospect.

One of four Porsche 911s entered topped the test day times, but Ford’s GT was mixing it for pace too. Aston Martin won the race last year with its ageing Vantage, but returns with a stunning new version of the car this time and with an impressive testing programme under its belt, the British team has high expectations. Can Aston win again in its new bright green livery?

Ferrari’s factory-blessed AF Corse team is full of ambition to take the Prancing Horse back to the top at Le Mans, while BMW’s stunning new M8 promises to offer more than just good looks. And you can never rule out the Corvettes, which are almost becoming ubiquitous at a race the American Pratt & Miller will take on for a 19th consecutive time. That’s simply remarkable.

Honours in both the Pro and Am GTE classes are wide open. Look out for the green square backgrounds for the numbers on the Pro-class cars, while the Am entries feature orange number squares. These stunning looking cars are more than just traffic for the prototypes to negotiate. The will contribute plenty to what looks certain to be another unforgettable Le Mans 24 Hours.

Enjoy the biggest race of the year!

Toyota has never faced a better chance to end its famous Le Mans curse than this year, and you can only say its campaign for glory at the 24 Hours is right on track following the traditional test day on Sunday, with Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso heading both the morning and afternoon sessions at the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.

As the only manufacturer team in the top LMP1 class following Porsche and Audi’s withdrawal, the Japanese factory team is the sole hybrid entry in the field, with its pair of powerful TS050 HYBRIDs expected to dominate for pace. But after 30 years of hurt at Le Mans, the big question is not whether Toyota can beat its privateer opposition – but whether it can overcome its own demons and banish the so-called curse once and for all. The near-misses, including the past two Le Mans, has made this race a psychological barrier that Toyota feels it simply must conquer.

Toyota LMP1 Le Mans Test Day 2018

Double Formula 1 world champion Alonso is not only considered by many as the best all-round racing driver in active competition, but also a genuine all-time great. As McLaren continues its struggles to hand him a competitive F1 car, the Spaniard has admirably realigned his sights on what else he wants to achieve from his career. A third F1 title is the dream, but looks increasingly likely to remain exactly that. Instead, he is now chasing motor racing’s unofficial Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, which he won twice in 2006 and ’07, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans.

A stunning debut at Indy last year could have resulted in the second of the big three being ticked off, only for a Honda engine failure to rob him of his chance in the late stages. The 36-year-old will have to return to the American oval in the future to try again.

But for now, a plum drive at Le Mans with the manufacturer that really should win this year could allow him to claim the endurance jewel in the triple crown at his first attempt. And that performance at the test day on Sunday suggests Alonso is more than ready to step up on his first appearance at the race.

His #8 Toyota was fastest in the morning session, with a time of 3m21.468s, but in the afternoon Alonso went even quicker to lodge a mark of 3m19.066s. Given who we’re talking about, we shouldn’t be too surprised by his benchmark pace. Still, it was an impressive performance for his first time on the daunting circuit.

Pleasingly, the #7 TS050 didn’t end up second to complete a Toyota one-two. Mathias Beche was only 0.7s down on Alonso’s best in the new Rebellion-Gibson R-13, tipped to be the strongest privateer threat to Toyota’s dominance. To be so close at the test day is encouraging and a testament to the great work put in by Rebellion and ORECA, the company that has built its new LMP1 non-hybrid racer. Living with the Toyotas on pace during the race is another matter, but Rebellion’s reputation for reliability means the team could be well placed to pick up the pieces if the TS050s hit trouble. At the test day, the team’s other car was fourth fastest, with ex-Audi race winner Andre Lotterer setting a quick lap late on Sunday afternoon to trail Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota.

Along with Alonso, another famous name from F1 acclimatised to Le Mans on Sunday with his first laps of the track. Jenson Button, Alonso’s former McLaren team-mate and the 2009 world champion, managed 20 laps in SMP Racing’s new BR1. He was man enough to admit Le Mans took some getting used to and Button is desperate for more time in the car once practice begins on Wednesday June 13. But his best time was in the 3m24s – respectable at this stage – and the pair of BR1s finished fifth and sixth fastest behind the Toyotas and Rebellions.

In the secondary prototype class, LMP2, competition was as tight as it ever is. Nathanael Berthon’s DragonSpeed ORECA-Gibson was fastest with a time of 3m27.228s, ahead of IDEC Sport’s ORECA and the G-Drive entry driven by ex-F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne. The class is almost impossible to predict and will provide much entertainment over the course of the 24 hours, even if Toyota breaks its long established habit for drama and has a clean race at the front.

LMP2 Le Mans Test Day 2018

GTE was just as closely fought during the test. Porsche might have pulled out of LMP1, but the German giant is putting plenty of effort into the Grand Touring class and clearly is going all out to win a category bursting with manufacturer interest. Patrick Pilet ended up fastest in his CORE Autosport 911, the car you won’t be able to miss during the race. That’s because the American IMSA entry is painted pink, in a tribute livery to the wonderful ‘Pink Pig’ long-tail 917 that graced Le Mans way back in 1971. The Pink Pig remains a cult car in Le Mans history and it’s typical of Porsche that such heritage should not be forgotten in the modern era. It’s even painted another 911 in Rothmans colours, in deference to the 1980s Group C works 956s and 962s. Tobacco sponsorship has long been banned, but the colour inference from a bygone age is a nice touch.

At the test, Porsche shaded the Ford GTs, while BMWs new M8 looked competitive too. With Ferrari, Aston Martin and Corvette all in the mix too, GTE honours will be wide open come June 16/17.

Porsche GTE Pro Le Mans Test Day 2018

Anticipation for what should be another great Le Mans 24 Hours is building a head of steam. For Toyota and Alonso, they will just be hoping it doesn’t boil over all too early.

Acura Team Penske dominated the weekend at Mid Ohio, Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor taking the first win for the ARX-05 DPI, eight seconds up the road of the #6 car piloted by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron.

Short Image Description

The two cars started the race on the front row and between them, led every lap of the race. It was Team Penske’s first win in the series in 10 years. Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas took the teams last win at Utah Motorsports Campus in the Porsche RS Spyder way back in 2009. The Team Joest Mazda DPI squad put up a fight throughout the first half of the race but fell back towards the end. The #55 tangled with a GT car at the half way mark, damaging the suspension. The #77 came home third with the #5 Action Express Cadillac taking fourth and the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac finishing fifth.

In GTLM, Nick Tandy took the lead on the opening lap, leading for the first hour or so before Earl Bamber took the lead in the #912. Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor took the win by 1.673 seconds. BMW Team RLL kept the pressure on, De Phillippi momentarily taking the lead in an out of sequence pit stop towards the end of the race before dropping back to second in the final pit window. All eight entries finished on the lead lap at the end of the 2 hour 40 minute race with the #3 Corvette taking third ahead of the #66 and #67 Fords which rounded out the top 5.

3GT took the win in GTD to give the Lexus GT3 its first win in the series. Jack Hawksworth put the #15 3GT Lexus RC F on pole on Saturday with the #14 Lexus qualifying second. The #14 car dominated the second half of the race giving Lexus their first win in North America. Alvaro Parente put up a fight in the #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX, closing the gap to a couple of tenths towards the end of the race. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow took third in the #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan GT3, their third consecutive podium.

Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the first race of the World Endurance Championship super-season at Spa, despite a stunning comeback by their sister Toyota after a pit lane start following a qualifying infringement.

Short Image Description

The #8 Toyota TS050 triumphed after the #7 machine of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez was excluded from qualifying having taken pole for an incorrect declaration of the fuel flow meter. It therefore started from the pit-lane a lap after the rest. A series of incidents got the #7 onto the leading Toyota’s tail. At mid-distance the #8 lost a minute when Nakajima had to return to the pits a lap after taking over from Alonso as his seatbelts were not done up correctly. Shortly afterwards Nakajima lost another 10 seconds by spinning at La Source.

Short Image Description

This left Kobayashi under a minute behind the leader. He had earlier got his car back onto the lead lap and soon after the #8 car’s dramas passed the Rebellion pair to claim second place. Then a safety car period with an hour to go after a heavy crash for Matevos Isaakyan in the #17 SMP Racing BR1-Gibson at Eau Rouge reduced the gap between the Toyotas to just 6s. Alonso driving the final stint kept his head however to hold off Conway by just 1.4s for the win.

Short Image Description

The non-hybrid LMP1 pack was headed by the #1 Rebellion of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, who took the final podium place despite repeated problems with the car’s data transmitting and being ordered to pit to change its transponder. The other Rebellion of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes finished fourth having run in close company of the #1 for much of the way. The #17 SMP Racing BR1-Gibson of Stephane Sarrazin, Egor Orudzhev and Isaakyan had also battled the Rebellions for the final podium place before Isaakyan’s crash, after starting from the back after not setting a qualifying time due to stopping on track with technical problems.The ByKolles Racing ENSO CLM P1/01 driven by Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and Tom Dillmann finished fifth followed home by the SMP Racing BR1-Gibson driven by Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov to complete the LMP1 finishers.

Short Image Description

The G-Drive Racing Oreca 07-Gibson driven Formula E championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov were comfortable winners in LMP2, leading home the Jota Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 driven by Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry, Stephane Richelmi in second by 20s. The Signatech Alpine Matmut driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and Andre Negrao in their Alpine A470-Gibson completed the LMP2 podium. The Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217-Gibson rose quickly to lead the LMP2 class early on with Giedo van der Garde at the wheel, but then had a lengthy stop in the second hour due to a gearbox problem which cost it 15 laps.

Short Image Description

The GTE Pro race was a close battle between the Fords and Porsches, which was won by the Ganassi-run Ford GT driven by Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson. They were chased to the flag by the Porsche 911 RSR driven by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre, 14s adrift. The Porsche had been delayed at two-thirds’ distance by a stop-go penalty for spinning their wheels when being released from the pits. The Ferrari 488 GTE of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird seized GTE Pro third place at the last, with Rigon elbowing past the #91 Porsche 911 of Richard Lietz at the Bus Stop chicane with a minute to go. The other Ganassi-run Ford GT crashed out an hour into the race when Harry Ticknell had a violent front-on smash in the Eau Rouge barriers, which he walked away from, caused apparently by a failure on the front-left of the car. The accident heralded a lengthy safety car period. Reigning GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi the#51 Ferrari 488 had ran off the Ford and Porsche pace and their chances ended when Pier Guidi collided with the Team Project 1 when exiting the pits with two hours to go. This meant lengthy repairs.

Short Image Description

Reigning champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda took the GTE Am win in their Aston Martin Vantage, with Lamy holding off a late sustained attack from second-placed Euan Hankey in the TF Sport Aston Martin.

#7 Toyota disqualified from qualifying after failing to disclose the correct technical information.

Short Image Description

In a late turn of events last night, long after qualifying had finished, the #7 Toyota was called in front of the Stewards. Toyota had incorrectly declared the fuel flow meter. As a result of this, the qualifying times set by the #7 have been cancelled, promoting the #8 car of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi to the front of the grid. The #7 “will start from the pit lane, and shall not join the race until the last car in the field has covered his first lap and following Race Director Instruction.”

Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna will now start alongside the #8 Toyota on the front row.

Following the decision, Toyota Gazoo Racing released a statement: “The team accepts full responsibility for the error, which had no impact whatsoever on car performance. The fuel flow meter which was used in the #7 was fully homologated and calibrated. Team processes and procedures will be strengthened immediately to avoid any repeat of this unfortunate error”

The #7 Toyota took the first pole of the new World Endurance Championship super-season for tomorrow’s Spa 6 Hours, as Toyota dominated the red flag-interrupted session.

Toyota LMP1 Spa 2018

The #7 Toyota TS050 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez beat its sister #8 machine of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi by just under four tenths on the average time. After the first runs Conway’s 1m54.679s mark beat Alonso’s effort by just under half a second. Then in the second efforts Kobayashi 1m 54.488s time was three tenths under that of Nakajima.

“Just tried to put two good laps together between me and Kamui,” said Conway, “we had a few poles last year we didn’t quite convert to wins, we’ll make sure we’ll convert some wins this year. It’s a good start anyway. It’ll still be tricky tomorrow with the amount of tyres we have, I’m sure the privateers will keep us on our toes.”

As anticipated Toyota were clearly the quickest of the LMP1 cars. The Rebellion-Gibson R-13s led the privateer non-hybrid LMP1 pack behind, with Neel Jani and Bruno Senna – who will be driving with Andre Lotterer tomorrow – starting third with an average 1.8s off the pole-time. Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes got fourth in the other Rebellion with an average 2.4s off the pace. They will drive tomorrow with Mathias Beche.

The SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 all-Russian #11 car of Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov will start fifth, ahead of the ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 of Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and Tom Dillmann.

FIA WEC Dragonspeed WEC

Prototype qualifying was first interrupted in the early minutes by the #17 SMP Racing BR1 stopping on the Kemmel straight having lost the engine and gearbox with Stephane Sarrazin at the wheel, and had not set a time. Then around a third of the way into the session Pietro Fittipaldi caused a lengthy stoppage with a big front-on crash at Raidillon in his DragonSpeed-Gibson BR1.

An official statement from the team and the FIA declared: “At 15:52 today, Friday 4 May 2018, the No.10 DragonSpeed BR Engineering BR1 left the track at high speed at Raidillon. The driver, who was conscious at all times, was attended immediately by the Circuit de Spa Francorchamps Medical Services and FIA Medical Delegate Jacques Tropenat, extracted from the car and taken by helicopter to the Centre Hospitalier de la Citadelle de Liege with suspected fractures to both legs. He is accompanied by the DragonSpeed Team Manager and his condition is not life threatening.”

The CEFC TRSM Racing Ginettas didn’t set a qualifying time, and it was announced shortly after qualifying that the team will take no further part in the weekend due to financial issues with sponsor TRS.

Alpine LMP2 Spa 2018

Signatech Alpine Matmut took LMP2 pole after pipping the G-Drive Racing machine. The average time of Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet in their Alpine A470-Gibson beat that of Formula E championship leader Jean-Eric Verge and Andrea Pizzitola in their Oreca 07-Gibson by just two hundredths of a second.

“Very tough weekend so far,” said Lapierre, “but we’ve improved the car a lot for the qualifying so we are very pleased, it was a very special qualifying as we didn’t have so much time to set a lap.”

The Jota Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing pair was next up, with Ho-Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry starting third with an average time four tenths off the pace and beating team-mates Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffry’s average in fourth by two tenths. They were followed by the DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson of Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez in fifth.

Short Image Description

The Chip Ganassi-run Fords took the first two places in GTE Pro class, with the #67 car of Andy Priaulx, Harry Ticknell and Tony Kanaan pipping Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson in the #66 by just 0.083s. Pla beat Priaulx by two tenths in their first runs but Ticknell’s best in the second runs beat Mucke’s by over three tenths to but him just ahead on average time.

“Had a good first banker lap,” said Priaulx, “and Harry did a great lap on the used tyre. So really super happy with the car. But the Porsche looked really strong and our team-mates were strong so I think this year the GTE Pro class is going to be a really tough battle.”

The Ford pair just beat the Porcshe 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni, whose average time was just four thousandths slower than the #66 Ford on the average time. The other Porsche 911 of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre was fourth, four tenths off the top.

Reigning GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the Ferrari 488 GTE EVO were fifth quickest, 1.4s off the top, while the best of the BMW M8 GTEs making its championship debut was Andretti BMW Formula E duo Antonio Felix Da Costa and Tom Blomqvist in sixth, a tenth behind the Ferrari on the average time.

The quickest of the new Aston Martin Vantage AMRs was the #97 car of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn in seventh.

Porsche #77 FIA WEC Spa

Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Porsche 911 RSR #77 took the GTE Am pole, for Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Julien Andlauer. They beat reigning GTE Am champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda in the Aston Martin Vantage #98 by a mere 0.002s on the average.

Team Project 1, new to the series from Porsche Supercup and Carrera Cup, took third in class with the #56 Porsche 911 RSR for Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti.

Ginetta have confirmed that the pair of G60-LT-P1s will not be released to CEFC TRSM Racing for tomorrows FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa due to the team missing payment deadlines.

Short Image Description

“It is with great disappointment that we have to announce that Ginetta will not be releasing the two LMP1 cars that successfully ran at the FIA WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard at the beginning of April. Unfortunately funds promised have not arrived from TRS to CEFC TRSM Racing. The required funds for Ginetta were due some time ago and whilst we understand that TRS has been working with its sponsors to sort the issue, without payment, Ginetta cannot allow the cars to race. Ginetta remains committed to working with CEFC TRSM Racing on this programme.

We are aware that CEFC TRSM Racing has visited TRS many times in China and can also confirm that TRS have visited Ginetta three times recently, the last time to attend a Royal visit. We have been informed by TRS that the current situation is a short term cash flow problem and that the main funds are in place for payment before Le Mans.”

Chairman of Ginetta, Lawrence Tomlinson said: “We’ve got to a situation where a UK-based team with excellent ability, kit and personnel, plus a pair of the latest LMP1 cars with confirmed and fully paid up entries for the 2018/19 FIA WEC (including two entries at Le Mans in both 2018 & 2019) are unable to race simply due to funds not flowing.”

The team are still aiming to get the cars out for the Le Mans 24 Hour next month with Ginettas Lawrence Tomlinson at Spa today, holding talks with senior officials from the ACO, WEC and FIA. A further statement will follow on the status of the programme and what future awaits it.

The #1 Rebellion Racing R13 topped the time sheets this morning, Neel Jani posting a time of 1:57.12, eight tenths up on Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota.

Short Image Description

Jani’s time was around two seconds faster than the previous best lap set by Rebellion but still a second off the pace of Toyota from FP2. Rebellion also claimed third spot in the session, the #3 car of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes clocking a 1:58.124 around Spa. Once again, the two CEFC TRSM Manor Ginettas only managed an installation lap before returning to the pit lane. We wait to see if they will take part in qualifying later this afternoon.

Short Image Description

In LMP2, Dragonspeed once again topped the session, again Pastor Maldonado going fastest in the #31 Oreca 07 with a time of 2:02.281. Jean Eric Vergne took second in class in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca with the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing claiming third spot, Ho Pin-Tung posting a 2:03.35.7.

Short Image Description

Ford topped FP3 again in GTE Pro, the #67 topping the time sheets; Andy Priaulx posting a time of 2:13.693 8 laps into the session. BMW broke into the top three for the first time, Tom Blomqvist setting a time of 2:14.225 to split the two Fords. Olivier Pla brought the #66 Ford home in third, posting time of 2:14.249. Porsche took fourth and fifth in session with Aston Martin again struggling with the new Vantage AMR. The #97 posted a time of 2:15.457 whilst the #95 only managed a 2:18.493; slower than eight of the GTE-Am entries.

Short Image Description

The #77 Porsche 911 RSR went quickest in GTE-Am, Matt Campbell setting a time of 2:15.410. The #88 took second place with TF Sport rounding out the top 3, Euan Hankey setting a time of 2:15.778.

The #7 TSO50 topped the time sheets in FP2, Mike Conway setting the pace with a time of 1:56.172, a considerable margin over the non hybrid LMP1 entries.

Short Image Description

The #10 DragonSpeed BR1-Gibson fell over 2.5 seconds off the pace with a time of 1:58.835 in the hands of Pietro Fittipaldi. Once again, both the CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta’s failed to run a competitive lap, both cars did one installation lap before returning to the pits. Speculation is rising in the paddock that the team are suffering financial problems with one of the Chinese backers under investigation. Whether this has any impact on the teams involvement with the rest of the season is unclear at this moment in time. SMP Racing were also having problems with the #17 BR1, the car came to a stop mid way through the session causing a red flag whilst the car was recovered.

Short Image Description

In LMP2, Pastor Maldonado continued to set the pace in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca 07, posting a time of 2:02.901 ahead of the second place #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07; Nail Jeffri posting a time of 2:03.306. Roman Rusinov took third in a one off return to the championship in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07. Matthieu Vaxiviere caused the second red flag of the session, going off at Turn 14.

Short Image Description

In GTE-Pro, Ford returned to the top of the time sheets, the #66 car posting a time of 2:13.733 in the hands of Stefan Mucke. Gianmaria Bruni lead the session early on however in the #91 Porsche, the #66 Ford was late to the session after spending the first 40 minutes in the garage. The #67 Ford rounded out the top three. As per FP1, the new Aston Martin Vanatage AMR and the new BMW M8 GTE struggled for pace this session, the #82 BMW setting a time outside of the top three times in GTE-AM.

Short Image Description

Porsche once again led the way in GTE-AM, the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche topping the session with a time of 2:16.113 in the hands of Benjamin Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche finished second, but it was the #98 Aston Martin that broke Porsche’s dominance, Pedro Lamy posting a time of 2:16.790.

Toyota Gazoo Racing finished FP1 at the top of the time sheets, Fernando Alonso leading the way.

Short Image Description

The FIA WEC debutant topped the time sheets in FP1 this morning at Spa; besting Mike Conway by just 2 tenths of a second with a time of 1:58.392 in the #8 Toyota TSO50. Rebellion were the best of the non-hybrid runners, the #3 Rebellion R13 Gibson of Menezes, Laurent and Beche was four tenths of the pace of Toyota. Championship new comers, CEFC TRSM Racing spent the session in the Garage after setting an installation lap at the beginning of the session in the Ginetta LMP1.

Fernando Alonso:

“I think its going to be an interesting season. Obviously we’ve done some tests already in Spain and Portimao. I missed the Prologue, I was racing in F1. Now is really the first time we meet with all the traffic and all the other cars, so definitely still a lot to learn, but step by step, I’m trying to learn this as much as I can with every single lap in the car. We’ve been training a lot in the simulator, this kind of traffic and these kind of situations, I hope I’m as prepared as I can be. We’ll see on Saturday. I’m not too worried about traffic management." Short Image Description

In LMP2, it was the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca in the hands of former F1 driver Pastor Maldonado which set the quickest time of the session, a 2:03.494. Alpine took second in class in the #36 Alpine A470, Andre Negrao setting a 2:04.134 with Jean Eric Vergne putting the #26 G-Drive Oreca third in class with a time of 2:04.198.

Short Image Description

Ford and Porsche pick up their 2017 rivalry where it left off, both demonstrating strong pace in the opening session. The #67 Ford topped the time sheets, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan piloting the car this weekend. The #66 Ford of Stefan Mucke, Oliver Pla and billy Johnson took second in the session, two tenths off the pace with a time of 2:15.273. Gianmaria Bruni rounded out the top three with a time of 2:15.631. Ferrari and BMW alternated between fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh whilst the two Aston Martin Vantage’s well a few seconds short of the pace, the #97 posting a time of 2:17.993 and the #95 posting a time of 2:18.227.

Short Image Description

And in GTE AM, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR posted a time of 2:16.601 with Matteo Cairoli behind the wheel. The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR took second thanks to a 2:17.552 lap from Ben Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche took third in GTEAm.

Motor racing has a cruel side to it, but during the 24 Hours of Le Mans that cruel side seems to be appearing more often than anywhere else. For over a century the French endurance classic has pushed man and machine to their absolute limits, on many occasions breaking machinery and breaking dreams.

Toyota owns a special place in the history of the race. The Japanese automotive overlord has not only been trying to win Le Mans for more than three decades and earned an undesired record of most second-place finishes without a win, but, above all, Toyota became the protagonist of some of the most memorable heartbreaks in the history of the race.

Toyota LMP1 at FIA WEC Prologue 2018

It all started in a rather modest manner, nothing like the LMP1 effort of today. The Toyota name first appeared at Le Mans in 1975, as an engine supplier of Sigma Automotive. The Sigma MC75 powered by a turbocharged engine from Celica ran in the top 10 at some stage but failed to finish. A decade later came Toyota’s first official involvement at Le Mans, when the Toyota 85C-L become the first-ever Japanese car to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans, crossing the line 12th overall. In 1987 TOM’S become a fully factory-backed team.

But it wasn’t until the ‘90s that Toyota became a contender and it also wasn’t until then that its litany of near misses started. Toyota’s ’92 challenger, the TS010 powered by a 3.5-litre V10, was a formidable force. The car shared by Masanori Sekiya, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and Kenny Acheson was fastest at the speed trap and set the fastest lap of the race but a series of repairs buried the chances of a victory and resulted in a second-place finish.

Two years Toyota’s only presence was in a form of privately entered, updated versions of the C2-class 94C-Vs. The #4 car (Steven Andskar, George Fouche, Bob Wollek) led for eight hours until it was hit by gearbox and differential problems. Later on the #1 car (Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini, Jeff Krosnoff) was comfortably in the lead with only an hour and a half remaining when a gear linkage problem forced a 13-minute repair. The #1 car finished second, a lap behind the winners, with the #4 car crossing the line in fourth.

When Toyota returned to Le Mans in 1998 gone were the days of Group C. A new breed of cars ruled at Circuit de La Sarthe – the mighty GT1s. The rules required manufacturers to produce a low number of road-going versions, hence some of the world’s most extreme supercars were made during the era, with a beautiful Toyota GT-One among them.

The TS020 GT-One was a favourite. The #28 car (Martin Brundle, Emmanuel Collard, Eric Helary) led in the early stages until it was forced to stop for a brake change. Then the #29 car (Thierry Boutsen, Ralf Kelleners, Geoff Lees) took over the lead and enjoyed it for a handful of hours until, with 80 minutes remaining, a transmission problem caused a lengthy pit stop. In the end, the #27 car (Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki, Keiichi Tsuchiya), classified ninth, was the only Toyota that finished the race.

In ’99 Toyota came back even stronger, starting out with locking out the front row. As the race went into the night two cars were lost due to crashes, with #27 (shared by Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya) Toyota’s only remaining car. Katayama suffered a puncture at over 200mph while closing on the leading BMW. The wounded car limped to the pits, received a new set of tyres and went on to finish second.

In the 2000s Toyota turned its attention to Formula 1 and it wasn’t until 2012 when it finally started its latest chapter of Le Mans history. In 2013 Toyota with its TS030 HYBRID shared by Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi finished second, again only a lap down, but this time the team never threatened the winning Audi.

In 2014 Toyota had the edge over Audi during the night when a problem with an FIA sensor stranded Kazuki Nakajima (who shared the #7 car with Alexander Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin) out on the track.

Two years later Toyota suffered one of the biggest heartbreaks in the history of the race. The TS050HYBRID looked destined to win, running one-two for most of the distance. With five minutes to go the leading #5 car in the hands of Kazuki Nakajima suffered a power loss – result of a fractured connection in an airline between turbocharger and intercooler. Porsche snatched the win in the very last moment.

In 2017 Toyota was the car to beat once again, but only until a clutch problem. The issue was a result of a bizarre incident that occurred in the pit lane. Nine and a half hours into the race the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi was parked at the end of pitlane during a safety car period. Kobayashi mistook an LMP2 driver giving him a thumbs up for a marshal giving him a sign to go, soon after the team told him to stop again, that in turn lead to a failure.

Toyota has endured a rotten luck at Le Mans in recent years, but some believe that there’s no such thing as bad luck, there is only bad planning. Is that indeed the case with Toyota? Difficult to say, but one thing is for sure – this year Toyota will return to Le Mans prepared better than ever before. At Motorland Aragon the team simulated a variety of issues in order to prepare themselves for different crisis situations. More than 20 different problems were simulated, including a turbo issue that cost them victory in the 2016 edition. Running on three wheels was also practised.

The team has lost a formidable competitor in the shape of Porsche and its biggest threat will come from privately entered LMP1 cars in what will look like a battle of a Goliath with a small army of Davids. It also secured services of one of the highest-rated drivers in the world, a certain Fernando Alonso. It’s simply now or never for Toyota.

Well, what a great surprise. Jenson Button racing a Jaguar XJR-9 at Le Mans Classic in July is exciting. But now the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion has chosen to bring his La Sarthe debut forward by a month: he’s going all-out for an attack on the 24 Hours itself. Fantastic news.

I must say, I was surprised. In his press statement, Jenson said “it’s always been a dream of mine to race at Le Mans”, but that didn’t seem to be the case during his Grand Prix career. Button enjoyed 17 eventful years in the F1 bubble and for most of that time showed little interest in anything else going on in the wider motor sport world. I recall times when he was asked specifically about Le Mans, especially in his later years at McLaren, and he tended to be a little dismissive.

But like many of his ilk, now that F1 bubble has burst he’s gained some perspective. Always a good chap and a pure racer at heart, he’s embracing what else motor racing has to offer away from the cauldron of intensity that is life in F1.

Jenson’s affinity for Japan led him to commit to the fantastic Super GT national series, in which he scored a second place in the first round of 2018 at Okayama a few weeks back, partnering Naoki Yamamoto in Team Kunimitsu’s Honda NSX-GT – and his taste buds for endurance racing have clearly been tantalised.

Now along with his Japanese commitment, the 38-year-old has signed up for the Le Mans 24 Hours and a subsequent World Endurance Championship campaign with SMP Racing. Button will drive the new Dallara-built BR1 LMP1 alongside rapid Russian duo Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. He knows the former from Petrov’s time in F1 with Renault, while Aleshin has history as a talented Indycar racer. All in all, a potent line-up.

SMP Racing at the Prologue 2018

The big questions are how competitive the BR1 will be at Le Mans – and will it really have any chance of going the distance?

We’ll know more about the genuine speed of the new non-hybrid LMP1 after this weekend’s WEC ‘Super Season’ kick-off, the Spa 6 Hours (which Button is missing). At the WEC Prologue test at Paul Ricard it was the best of the new breed of privateer prototypes and only slower than the hybrid Toyotas.

Reliability is entirely another matter for SMP, as it will be for all the teams running new cars. Lasting six hours untroubled would be an achievement in Belgium, never mind over 24 in France.

So why has Button committed to this unproven programme? He has spoken bullishly of going to Le Mans to win, but can that really be a goal this year?

His old McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso is in an entirely different situation, of course. As a member of the only factory to compete in the top class, the Spaniard has a great chance of making a winning debut at the big race. That’s pressure.

Button? The pressure cannot be so great when he’s racing a brand new car. Expectations for Jenson will be nowhere near as high as they will be for Fernando – and that could play to the Briton’s advantage.

But again, can he really win? Well, Toyota has to be the hot favourite – but with its cursed record at Le Mans, nothing can be taken for granted. If the two hybrids falter, one of the privateers could pick up the pieces – and if that’s the case, it’s likely to be the one that has the least amount of trouble. In that case, why not SMP?

Then again, and rather bizarrely, Button’s best chance of a debut win might have actually been with a well-run LMP2 in the prototype second division. They might not have the pace of the top class, but they’re proven over this distance. Who can forget last year when the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA led overall and was only eventually beaten by a hybrid Porsche?

Whatever their fortunes, the addition of a pair of F1 world champions is a huge boost for the race, especially in the year following Porsche’s withdrawal. How they get on will be fascinating. All eyes will be on Button and Alonso on June 16/17.

It takes a lot to add to the attractions of a Le Mans 24 Hour race. But this year we have something over and above the event’s habitual charms. Two-time F1 champion, and McLaren driver, Fernando Alonso is taking part in Toyota’s LMP1 squad.

That an incumbent F1 pilot is taking part, moreover has a real chance of winning, feels exceptional. Granted we had Nico Hulkenberg taking part and winning for Porsche in 2015 but he was the first serving F1 driver to win the 24 Hours since 1991. And although many declared interest in Le Mans in Hulkenberg’s victory afterglow the expected rush of F1 stars hasn’t yet happened, though it didn’t help that the following year there was a clash with the ‘European Grand Prix’ in Baku.

Yet taking the full breadth of history F1 drivers participating in Le Mans and winning it is not all that exceptional. Time was that even the most decorated F1 drivers would race in a multitude of other categories as well. Sportscar racing and Le Mans itself were fully included.

When the F1 world championship came into being in 1950 right away Louis Rosier that year combined a Le Mans win with a full F1 campaign in a Talbot.

Four years later Ferrari took its first factory Le Mans victory and its two winning drivers, Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant, also completed F1 seasons that year for the Scuderia. Mike Hawthorn the following year won the tragic Le Mans race for Jaguar while also being a full-time F1 pilot.

The 1960s were the peak of the F1 driver triumphing at the Circuit de la Sarthe, and again it was down in part to Ferrari which won six times in a row at the start of that decade. In 1961 Phil Hill took a Le Mans win and an F1 world championship for Ferrari in the same year; Olivier Gendebien, Jochen Rindt and Lorenzo Bandini also won the 24 hours race for the Italian marque while full-time F1 drivers.

The trend continued as Ford took over the wins in the second half of the decade, indeed it accelerated. Dan Gurney, Pedro Rodriguez, Lucien Bianchi, Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver all took wins before the ‘60s were out, providing a clear peak of F1 driver success at Le Mans.

Graham Hill and Henri Pescarolo (more than once) joined them early the following decade, while by 1976 Ickx had taken a couple more Le Mans victories as a full-time F1 man.

But then it dried up. With Bernie Ecclestone’s F1 commercial rocket ship suddenly there was little scope for drivers to take part in Le Mans too. Well paid superstars had less financial need. More testing and commercial obligations left fewer spaces in diaries. Sponsor and manufacturer conflicts abounded too. Ultra-committed F1 pilots didn’t want distractions. Nervous teams didn’t like the idea of losing their precious driving assets to injuries.

So after Didier Pironi’s triumph in the resplendent yellow Renault Alpine in 1978 only in 1991 did a full-time F1 driver win Le Mans. Indeed two did so at once as Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot formed part of the winning line-up for the rotary-engined Mazda. From then there was next to nothing; Eddie Irvine finishing second in 1994 in a Toyota and Sebastien Bourdais finishing in the same place for Peugeot in 2009 were rare exceptions.

That was until 2015 when Le Mans, and F1, went back to the future. By then testing restrictions freed up F1 drivers’ time, and the prestige of Le Mans remained. The talented but neglected Hulkenberg decided given his rut it was worth having a go in a Porsche (ironically, after Honda didn’t sanction Alonso getting the gig). And he won on his first attempt. How Alonso must hope to replicate the feat.

Images courtesy of lemansclassic.com

30 Hours of testing, 53,000km covered by all entries and it was Toyota Gazoo Racing who came out on top of the official pre-season test at Paul Ricard.

#8 Toyota

LMP1

Toyota covered 5872km across the two cars, Mike Conway, topping the timing screens with a time of 1:32.662, significantly quicker than the non-hybrid LMP1 cars. It was however confirmed that Toyota had been running an unrestricted set up to test a new cooling system. This will perhaps come as some kind of relief to the competition with the closest non-hybrid entry, the #11 SMP Racing BR1 falling 4.3 seconds shy of the quickest pace. However, this is only pre-season testing, how much are the teams willing to reveal at this stage? Qualifying at Spa in just a few weeks’ time will be the first time to see the cars being pushed to the maximum.

#1 Rebellion

The huge amount of change in LMP1 over the winter break has been a major point of discussion and speculation in the past few months. Rebellion Racing have returned to LMP1 with the Rebellion R-13 piloted by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, arguably one of the most experience trios in the class and certainly one to watch as the super season unfolds! A deal was announced prior to the Prologue between TVR and Rebellion which sees the brand return to Le Mans for the first time in over a decade. TVR will be present as an “automotive partner”.

It was a promising start for the LMP1 non-hybrid field with SMP Racing and Rebellion split by just 0.010 on the fastest lap, the #11 SMP besting the #1 Rebellion R-13 to take third and fourth respectively in the overall quickest lap time. An impressive start for Rebellion considering the lack of testing during the winter break. Unveiled to the world in Bahrain at the end of last season, the two SMP entered BR1s between them ran 515 laps.

It was a quiet but good weekend for ByKolles in the updated CLM P1/01. The team dropped out of the 2017 season after Nurburgring as planned to focus on developing the new car. The car managed to run 331 laps, a significant improvement on this time last year when at Monza, they ran just a handful of laps.

#6 CEFC TRSM

CEFC TRSM (Manor/Ginetta to you and I), step up to LMP1 this year with a pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1s. They experienced a number of minor issues throughout the test, struggling to get anywhere near the competition in terms of lap times complete. The #6 car finished with 121 laps on the board whilst the #5 made a late debut on Friday after a water leak stopped the team from running early on Friday. It was a fantastic job from the Ginetta and Manor pit crew to get the car up and running considering it was still being built on Thursday. The #5 made an initial run around sunset on Friday evening but was forced back to the pits with a few teething problems. The car returned later that night with Mike Simpson at the wheel before getting some consistent running in early Saturday morning, managing to clock 138 laps as a result.

DragonSpeed split their efforts between LMP1 and LMP2 this year, running a Gibson BR1 in LMP1. This was one of the first outings for the car with the team focused on trialling different set ups and getting track time for Henrik Hedman. They completed the session with 145 laps on the clock.

LMP2

#38 Jackie Chan Racing

Its the same old faces but with additional variety this year in LMP2. Jackie Chan DC Racing return to the championship with their two Gibson powered Oreca 07s alongside TDS Racing and Signatech Alpine. Championship regulars and 2016 champions G-Drive have stepped back from a full season campaign and were absent at The Prologue but will join the grid at Spa in preparation for Le Mans. Team Nederland join the championship running the Dallara P217 whilst Larbre return to the WEC but this time in the Ligier JSP217, not the GTEAm Corvette of recent years. Along with multiple chassis this year, the teams are also running different rubber, split between Michelin and Dunlop tyres.

#31 Dragon Speed

It was a pretty quiet event for LMP2 with none of the teams signed up to run the full 30-hour session, all of them pulling into the pits before the sun set and re-joining the following morning. The DragonSpeed Oreca will be driven this season by Roberto Gonzalez, Ben Hanley and Pastor Maldonado, looking to relaunch his career after a few years out of F1. Maldonado was the quickest driver of the class, the only one to lap.

GTE Pro

#91 Porsche

Porsche took a 1-2 finish at the top of the time sheets looking dominant throughout the weekend, the #91 leading the way in the hands of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni with a time of 1:51.332, half a second ahead of the #92 which posted a time of 1:51.837. Ford were the only real challengers of the weekend, the four cars completing over 200 laps and split by less than a second.

The latest generation of the Ferrari 488 GTE struggled all weekend. The #71 caught fire during re-fuelling early on Saturday and didn’t run again that day whilst the #51 struggled with tyre wear.

#95 Aston Martin

Aston Martin Racing debuted the new Vantage this weekend, not going for outright pace but favouring long distance running. The #95 completed 852 laps with all six drivers behind the wheel at one point or another, some of them splitting time between the #95 and #97 which got a further 235 laps under its belt.

It was the championship debut for the new BMW M8 GTE (which had its official race debut at The Rolex 24 At Daytona back in January), the #82 car clocked up 682 laps whilst the #81 only completed a six-hour run.

GTE Am

#86 Porsche

Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return as defending champions in the #98 Aston Martin. They will once again face up against Dempsey Proton, who this year field a two-car line up, Gulf Racing back once again with the #86 Porsche, Spirit of Race Ferrari and Clearwater, each of whom have entered one car for the season. The class regulars will be joined by Team Project 1 (911 RSR), MR Racing (Ferrari 488) and TF Sport (Aston Martin).

As in GTEPro, Porsche led the way in GTE AM, each team for the first time running the 911 RSR. Gulf Racing UK and Dempsey Proton were the ones to watch, the #88 of Matteo Cairoli eventually taking and holding the top spot with a time of 1:52.936. What was interesting about GTEAm however this year was how, on one lap pace, they mixed times with the GTEPro category. Will some of the faster Am drivers be able to fight with the back runners in GTE Pro?

The Class of 2018

17 Prototypes and 19 GTE cars lined up at Paul Ricard. There is clearly still a lot to learn and no one is really giving away their true performance just yet, however, it is going to be an incredible season. The championship new comers will hopefully shake the championship up this year, the privateer LMP1 teams challenging Toyota, the new LMP2 chassis with varying tire choices adds another variable to the competition who will have the advantage this year after an Oreca chassis lock out in LMP2 in 2017?

Can BMW and the new Aston Martin Vantage look to challenge Porsche and Ford who have both enjoyed successes in the past couple of years?

And with a number of championship new comers joining the fight in GTE Am, will it be the experienced WEC veterans who come out on top or the new challengers?

Join us at Spa Francorchamps in May when the season truly begins.

Taking place at Paul Ricard this weekend is the official pre-season test for the World Endurance Championship. The cars were unveiled to the global media on Thursday in the south of France with the 30 hour test session kicking off Friday morning, the first time in 2018 that all the competitors will run together on track.

In total there will be 35 cars from across LMP1, LMP2 and the LMGTE Pro and Am categories preparing frantically for the curtain-raiser 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in May and then the big one of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The session will run straight through the night, beginning 10:00 local time and finishing at 16:00 Saturday Afternoon.

“FIA

There will be particular interest in this Prologue as much is different this WEC season. First off it will be an eight-race ‘Super Season’ that stretches across the calendar year of 2018 and the first half of ’19, as WEC transitions to a winter-series format for 2019/20.Therefore this campaign will contain the next two Le Mans 24 Hours – the Super Season will conclude at the 2019 race, and subsequent seasons will end with Le Mans also. Also Silverstone returns to the calendar in August and the 1000 miles of Sebring in Florida is added next March. Other races from 2017 – Austin, Bahrain, Mexico City and the Nurburgring – are dropped.

There also will be a new look among the LMP1 frontrunners. Champion Porsche has pulled out, leaving Toyota as the only manufacturer. But if you think that means a Toyota walkover, not so fast. Toyota is challenged by five other privateer LMP1 teams. Last year only a single ByKolles Racing Team entrant joined Toyota and Porsche in LMP1 and only for the opening four rounds of nine. And performance parity between Toyota’s hybrid technology and the privateers running non-hybrid P1 machinery – via a system of regulations and penalties – is promised. Toyota has expressed worry too, particularly for Le Mans. The Prologue will be our first chance to see how the rest actually measure up against Toyota; Toyota intends to run its Le Mans-spec car in The Prologue’s night running.

LMP2 champion Rebellion returns to LMP1 after a year away and has a tie-up with the iconic British sportscar manufacturer TVR. It also boasts a strong driver line-up including former Porsche LMP1 pilots Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer.

Manor Ginetta, racing under the CEFC TRSM Racing banner, also steps up from LMP2 to LMP1 and has just added Alex Brundle to its driving roster, as well as former GP3 runner-up Dean Stoneman for the opening two rounds.

And of course this season we’ll have two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso joining Toyota’s driver line-up, alongside Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Alonso isn’t at The Prologue however, as he’s competing in the Bahrain Grand Prix, neither is Nakajima or Kamui Kobayashi, due also to calendar clashes. Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz therefore join its Prologue line-up.

Graham Kielloh is a member of the Autosport Academy and contributor to Speed Chills View

At 38, Jenson Button is still more than young enough to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. But the fact he is choosing to make his debut at La Sarthe this summer in a Group C Jaguar at Le Mans Classic, rather than the contemporary race itself, tells you much about where his head is at right now.

The 2009 world champion stepped away from the pressure cooker of Formula 1 at the end of 2016, and although he made a return with McLaren at Monaco last year as a ‘super-sub’ for Indy 500-bound Fernando Alonso, it was very much a one-off. Button subsequently confirmed he is now officially a retired F1 champ.

Jenson Button

Image courtesy of lemansclassic.com

Since then, his racing focus has switched to the fantastic Super GT series for high-powered and spectacular endurance racers in Japan, a country for which he holds a deep affection and affinity. He made his series debut for Honda last August in the Suzuka 1000Kms and is about to embark on his first full season in an NSX GT for Team Kunimitsu, starting at Okayama this weekend (April 6/7).

Le Mans? He’s never shown much enthusiasm for the place when asked about it – which he was on occasion during his F1 sunset years at McLaren. In fact, you would have been forgiven for interpreting his coolness as a surprisingly dismissive attitude to the great race.

But should we be surprised he’s been enticed to come out to play at the fabulous Classic meeting on July 6-8? Actually, no.

For one thing, his mates have clearly talked him into it. Jenson will be driving for JD Classics, the Essex-based historics emporium for whom his friend Alex Buncombe regularly races. For another, Button is enough of a blue-blooded racing enthusiast to be curious about sampling the glorious 8.4-mile circuit, but without having to face the mass attention an entry in the 24 Hours proper would clearly inspire.

Then also consider that age once again: Button is a true child of the 1980s.

As a kid, he and his beloved old man (the late and much missed John Button) were avid Alain Prost fans. F1 was all they could think about back then. Still, Jenson couldn’t have missed the super-powered Silk Cut TWR Jaguars – especially when a sister chassis to the XJR-9 he’ll drive in July famously won the 24 Hours to national acclaim exactly 30 years ago. In 1988, Jenson was a racing-mad, impressionable eight-year-old.

Make no mistake: with more time on his hands now he’s done with F1, the chance to drive a Group C Jaguar will certainly be pushing his, er, buttons (sorry…). Whether he’ll ever be tempted to try the 24 Hours for real is another matter – and might well hinge on what he makes of the place in July.

But if he ever does to decide to make a commitment to the 24 Hours – and as an ex-F1 champion he’d surely be a welcome addition – it wouldn’t technically be his first entry into a big international twice-around-the-clock classic. Back in 1999, Button was a budding star in British Formula 3 when a sponsor diverted his F1 focus for a weekend to make a cameo appearance at… the Spa 24 Hours.

Back then, Belgium’s own version of Le Mans was still run for saloons rather than GTs as it is today and admittedly wasn’t exactly in the midst of its greatest era. But even if it was only run for underpowered ‘Superproduction’/Group N 2-litre hot-hatches and rep-mobiles, it was still a loud and clear bleep on the radar for sponsors and car manufacturers.

Fuel company FINA had a proud history at the Spa 24 Hours, and with a new campaign backing Renault’s Promatecme-run British F3 campaign for which Button was racing, made sure his contract included a three-line whip for the Spa enduro.

A pair of BMW 320is were entered under the FINA banner by Italian Gabriele Rafanelli, a true Italian racing gent best known for previously running BMWs in Europe under the respected Bigazzi banner. Rafanelli was now running his own FINA-backed team in Formula 3000, but was more than happy to return to more familiar territory for one weekend.

His F3000 aces were gregarious Belgian David Saelens (very quick and very funny, especially after a beer or three) and highly likeable Czech and future Aston Martin Le Mans regular Tomas Enge (who would sadly earn infamy in 2002 for losing his F3000 title after testing positive for marijuana). Button would join the pair at Spa to form a junior trio in one of the smart looking 320is.

Experience was clearly lacking for such a race, but this was a potent line-up. And when they qualified 12th, hopes must have been raised at FINA that their investment in young talent was about to pay off. Sadly, Button wouldn’t even get to turn a wheel in the race itself.

A fuel leak not only forced Saelens to retire the car early on, it almost gassed him. Fumes in the cockpit left him physically sick, leaving Enge and Button facing an early trip home. From what I remember, Jenson wasn’t exactly overcome with disappointment.

I happened to be at that race working on a story for a magazine and knew Jenson quite well having followed him to his British Formula Ford and Festival double in 1998. He was a pleasant, uncomplicated lad back then. Yes, hype already surrounded him, but Dad John was always there to keep him grounded. I experienced their natural father-son bond that weekend in a hospitality tent when John quietly rebuked his boy for an uncharacteristic moment of arrogance. Still only 19, Jenson clearly had some growing up to do – and John wasn’t about to let him forget it.

Earlier on, I’d caught up with Jenson sitting on a wall at the end of the pitlane before a practice session. He was on his own, looked a bit lost and seemed genuinely pleased to see a familiar face. During our brief chat he made it clear that while he loved Spa, driving what amounted to little more than a lightly tuned road car held little interest for him.

Funny to think that within a year, he would have concluded an unremarkable F3 season with Renault and FINA – then be handed a dream test for his old hero Alain Prost, who was grappling with the unhappy challenge of running his own F1 team as the century turned.

Prost’s car was uncompetitive, but Alain saw enough of Jenson to be deeply impressed. He made a recommendation to Frank Williams, who was running out of options in his search for a replacement for the disappointing Alex Zanardi – and the rest is history…

The cameo in a saloon at Spa was soon forgotten, and a torrent of time and racing has now passed since that weekend nearly 20 years ago.

Now with the perspective of an F1 life well lived, Button might be about to soften his attitude to 24-hour races. If anything can change his mind, it will surely be that Jaguar on the greatest circuit of them all.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

This year we’re happy. Why? Because we get a double dose of Le Mans thanks to it being a Le Mans Classic year. That’s right two doses of that “Le Mans vibe” that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Of course there'll be the likes of Alonso (at the 24 Hours) and Bell (at the Classic) to look forward to. But there's more. There's waking to the sound of the engines speeding around the infamous circuit, the chatter of fellow racing enthusiasts absorbed by the events unfolding before them, the smell of petrol fumes mixed with frites and crepes and, as dusk approaches, it's sitting outside with a beer and a burger - slightly weather-beaten (be it from rain or shine) - feeling relaxed and content in a world far away from the banalities of home.

Private Camping at Le Mans

Okay, here at Speed Chills we may be a little bit biased. But we’re part of those lucky few who absolutely love our job, and here’s seven good reasons why we think you’d love private camping at Le Mans, too.

1. The Clubhouse

This will be your home from home over the race weekend. And what a home it is. A well-stocked bar, the best food and drink at Le Mans served by our English speaking team, 24 hour racing coverage on our large screens and plenty of places to sit and relax with your friends and fellow campsite companions. And, at the Le Mans 24 Hours, the party really gets going with our excellent live entertainment on Friday and Sunday nights at our Beausejour campsite.

2. The best of both worlds (Le Mans 24 Hours)

We have two private camping sites for Le Mans 24 Hours, one at Bleu Sud and one at Beausejour and each have their different qualities. Bleu Sud is closer to the circuit being immediately opposite Maison Blanche. Conveniently close to the start / finish line this a smaller, more laid back tree-lined site, which gets booked up quickly due to its size. N.B This site is now full for 2018 but book ahead for 2019 to secure a space next time.

Beausejour is our bigger site based in the middle of the circuit, where you get a 360 degree soundtrack to the race (easily muffled with earplugs when you do need to get a bit of kip). It has the same excellent facilities as Blue Sud with the added extra of being the host for our Friday & Sunday night live entertainment.

Dressing up for the Classic

3. Good Vibrations (Le Mans Classic)

The feedback we always get for Le Mans Classic is how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere is at our Private Campsite in Bleu Sud. All those who book private camping for Le Mans Classic will stay at the conveniently positioned Bleu Sud, which Speed Chills has exclusive use of. It’s an excellent spot, with shaded areas and a comfortable clubhouse. It’s a wonderful place to sit back, relax and take in the sights, sounds and uniqueness of the Le Mans Classic.

4. Bring your pride and joy

The drive down to Le Mans is part of the whole experience, whether it’s for the 24 Hours or the Classic. Car spotting becomes a full time sport; locals adorn the bridges over the motorways looking for friendly honks of the horns as we pass underneath them. And it doesn’t stop when you get to the campsite. We encourage you and your friends to bring your pride and joys, whether they’re modern, classic, retro or vintage. There’s nothing better than seeing a line of interesting looking motors parked alongside the tents. And don’t forget we also have the infield eligible car display area at the Le Mans Classic. And Car Club Members also get an exclusive private camping group discount.

5. Excellent security and facilities

Did you know around 260,000 people (a large proportion of which are Brits) descend on Le Mans at the 24 Hour race? With this in mind our private campsites have secured fencing and are guarded 24 hours a day by our surveillance team, at both the 24 Hours and the Classic.

We also provide extremely clean separate male and female toilet and hot shower facilities with little or no queues. Making the whole camping experience much more enjoyable and civilised.

6. In safe hands

Booking with Speed Chills isn’t just the most fun, reliable, clean, tasty, relaxed, enjoyable, secure, best-priced, convenient and easy option. It’s also the safest. Being an ABTA member you’re in safe hands. Being a member means we can guarantee you’ll receive a high standard of service, fair terms of trading and accurate information.

7. And Finally (although not technically about Private Camping)………Tickets, tickets, tickets

While we’d love for you to stay with us on site at our Private Campsites for both the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Le Mans Classic, we understand that sometimes people just like to make their own arrangements. With this in mind, we’d like to bring to your attention that as a UK official agency of both events we have a license from the ACO to sell every public campsite and event ticket. So whether you need a grandstand ticket, or a public camping pitch we can help you too.

To book your private camping package at Le Mans call us on 01494 211024 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can give you a tailored quote depending on your party-size, your travel requirements and the sort of ticket you’d like.

For Private Camping at Le Mans 24 Hours prices start from £279pp - based on 4 people sharing a C35 pitch on 'Speed Chills - Beausejour' via Dover/Calais. Price INCLUDES General Admission.

For Private Camping at Le Mans Classic prices start from £243 per person - based on 4 people sharing a C35 pitch on 'Speed Chills - Bleu Sud' via Dover/Calais. Price INCLUDES General Admission and Paddock Pass.

The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring got off to a hectic start. Pole sitter, Tristan Vautier, lost the drag race down to turn one to Olivier Pla who took the Tequila Patron ESM down the inside of Vautier but contact between the two saw Pla spin into the gravel. Vautier continued but the #2 ESM re-joined at the back of the grid and retired shortly after. The #3 Corvette and #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari also made contact in the opening stages, the Ferrari picking up a left rear puncture.

In GTLM, BMW found themselves in a 1-2 position at the end of the first lap, James Calado had fallen like a stone and the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari was running in seventh place.

It wasn’t long into the race when the first Full Course Yellow was called. The #52 Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier LMP2 lost control through the final corner, collecting the #64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari and sending the GT car in to a low speed barrel role, which ended in the crash barriers. Frankie Montecalvo escaped the incident unharmed while Sebastian Saavedra managed to limp the damaged Ligier back to the pits. There were further incidents up and down the grid as the race reached the first pit window, Jordan Taylor made contact with one of the Audi GTD cars when exiting the pits and the two Ford GTs collided as they both left their respective boxes at the same time.

As the race closed in on the end of the second hour, Felipe Nasr had extended his lead, running up the front in clean air. But into the 120-minute mark, Graham Rahal had made some ground, reeling in the Brazilian former F1 driver as his tyres began to wear. Neither car would hold the lead by the end of hour three. But, with both drivers coming into the pits, the Rahal Acura dropped to fourth as the Cadillacs took up a one-two position with the Curran leading Taylor in the #31.

Closing in on the half way point and it was Pipo Derani who was setting the pace in the #22 ESM Tequila Patron Ligier Nissan. Ricky Taylor was running in second in the #7 Team Penske Acura - having established a 17 second lead before the latest FCY period.

Derani managed to take advantage of a number of slow Penske pit stops and a drive-thru penalty for Mike Conway in the #31 to pull a gap on the rest of the field. Spencer Pigot held third at this point in time, demonstrating the Mazda’s efficient fuel economy to undercut the front runners and despite a drive-thru penalty for Harry Tincknell (for running into the back of the #99 JDC Miller Motorsport), it was an impressive performance from the Team Joest Mazda. That said, the sister car lost eight laps due to rear brake issues for Tristan Nunez.

In the fifth hour of the race - in a rather bizarre turn of events - a spectator gazebo was blown over the trackside fence and landed on the circuit! Perfect timing for Ricky Taylor and the Acura squad who had just completed their pit stop before the caution, allowing them to emerge ahead of Pipo Derani and Mike Conway at the restart.

Alex Brundle span the #32 United Autosports Ligier at the restart, running off line at the final corner to overtake the GT field. Race Control called another caution as a result before restarting the race.

The safety car was called out again not long after Brundle’s spin to allow marshals to recover debris from the #99 car on the front straight and to clear up the collision between the #24 BMW of Jonathon Edwards and the #66 Ford GT of Dirk Muller.

Christina Nielsen spun the #58 Porsche at the restart in the process of attempting to overtake Jorg Bergmeister. Nielsen ended up facing backwards, the on coming back splitting to avoid the stricken Porsche, she spun the car around and got back into the race. It was this period of running that saw Derani begin to draw out his 17 second advantage and with a string of cautions and pit stops, the penalties previously awarded to the #55 and #31 cars were effectively written off, the two cars now occupied third and fourth respectively.

The race would be green for around 90 minutes before Dominik Baumann’s front end came lose on the #14 Lexus, blocking his view. He left the track at turn 1 and 2, taking an advertising board with him before re-joining the track, leaving the advertising board on the circuit. The safety car was called to allow the marshals to safely collect the advertising board as Baumann came into the pits.

The #25 BMW and #62 Ferrari dominated the early stages of the race in GTLM with the #25 holding the lead at the half way point.

Former Porsche LMP1 driver and Le Mans winner Nick Tandy sat third in the #911 Porsche while in GTD, a three-way battle raged between the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura and the #29 Monaplast by Land Motorsport Audi.

Luca Stolz lead the field at the half way point in the #33 Riley Motorsports AMG Mercedes with Bryan Sellers tucked in behind him in the #48 Lamborghini.

With nine hours on the clock, the race was really heating up. Six Prototypes were running on the lead lap with the #55 Mazda leading the way. Battles up and down the pack were intensifying as darkness fell over Florida, all eyes were on the fight between the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Mike Conway and the #22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Nicolas Lapierre whilst the #90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac kept an eye on the battle from a safe distance waiting to pounce.

The #55 Mazda was running a different strategy at this point, jumping to the front before falling back again through the pit stop windows. The car was in the hands of Jonathan Bomarito who had taken over from Harry Tincknell.

The #31 Whelen Cadillac was lucky to be in contention having escaped any punishment for spinning the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi at the start of the seventh hour. The #5 Cadillac, in the hands of Joao Barbosa collided with the #32 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca at the final corner in the eighth hour of the racing, forcing both cars into the pits with significant damage to both. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac, now up in fourth place had Alex Brundle hot on his heels in the #32 United Autosports Ligier. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac completed the six-car line up in the lead lap of the race.

The third quarter of the race proved to be the end of the road for the Acura Team Penske squad. The #7 of Ricky Taylor was the first to fall with mechanical failures while the #6 of Juan Pablo Montoya also suffered mechanical difficulties stopping out on track before being recovered to the pits.

Fred Makoweicki held the lead in GTLM in the #911, with all five manufacturers still represented on the lead lap and in contention for the win. With 246 laps on the clock, the Porsche GT Team held an advantage of just two-tenths over the Risi Competizione Ferrari of James Calado. While the #3 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner was less than nine seconds further back in third place. The #912 Porsche, in 4th placem was lucky to have escaped a penalty earlier on in the hands of Nick Tandy after losing a rear bumper running across a kerb resulting in a FCY to allow the body work to be recovered.

In GTD, the top 10 cars were all still running on the lead lap. The #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach was leading the way from the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Madison Snow.

After nine hours of running, the top eight were covered by just 13 seconds! The #86 Acura holds third with the #33 Mercedes AMG Team Riley Motorsports and #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari rounding out the top five. The #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi, #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche and #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes were all arguably still in contention in this incredibly close class.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Luis Felipe Derani, Nicholas Lapierre and Johannes van Overbeek took the win for the 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Porsche GT and Paul Miller Racing taking the GTLM and GTD category wins.

Derani took the final stint, climbing to the front of the field as the #55 Mazda Team Joest fell out of contention due to a slow pit stop, losing two minutes and a lap to the leaders. What made this worse for the team is that they had only been six seconds behind when they came into the pits! So when the clock hit 12, Derani had a 12.427 second advantage on the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac of Renger van der Zande, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac took third place in the hands of Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Eric Curran although the #32 United Autosports Ligier gave them a run for their money. The final podium position was decided in the dying moments as Paul di Resta was forced in to the pits for a splash and dash. The additional pit stops resulted in the #38 Core Autosport Oreca leaping ahead of the #32 Ligier to claim fourth place ahead of the #55 Mazda which finished fifth.

Six laps off the pace in seventh was the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller and Stephen Simpson, while the second Mazda, delayed earlier in the race, was eighth, with the #77 of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Rene Rast ten laps behind the race winning Nissan.

The final hours of the GTLM battle was solely between Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims, the #911 Porsche of Tandy narrowly beating the #25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTLM by just 6.23 seconds at the end of the 12 hours. The sister #912 Porsche took third place 11 seconds behind Sims whilst the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT recovered to fourth place, passing the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari with just 15 minutes left on the clock.

In the final moments of GT Daytona, Bryan Sellers made a move on Jeroen Bleekemolen to take the win for Paul Miller Racing by 8.169 seconds. Sellers, alongside Madison Snow and Corey Lewis were fighting hard for much of the final quarter with the Riley Motorsports AMG GT3. The Mercedes crew were forced to defend from the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari allowing the Paul Miller crew to pull ahead just out of reach.

Christopher Mies, Sheldon van der Linde and Alessio Picariello ended off the podium in fourth in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi, with the #15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher fifth.

The top ten in the GT Daytona class all finished on the lead lap, with the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche, the #93 and #86 Michael Shank Racing Acuras, the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche and the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes all completing the same number of laps as the class victors.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

Action Express Cadillac held the early advantage in the 15 minute qualifying session with 16 cars vying for poll position at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Juan Pablo Montoya temporarily held pole position in the Penske Acura before Tristan Vautier, in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac took the qualifying lap record twice, first of all with a 1:47.71 and then shortly after, he posted a time of 1:47.432 to cement pole position for the Florida team.

All 10 DPIs were ahead of the P2 entries with ESM in the mix as well for the front positions on the grid, Olivier Pla took second place despite power sliding through turn 17 in the #2 ESM.  The #7 Acura took third position ahead of the #22 ESM with a time of 1:47.834. It was positive news from the Mazda Team Joest camp, Rene Rast qualified in seventh place ahead of the Mustang Sampling and Konica Minolta Cadillacs. The 10 DPI entries were split by just 9 tenths of a second whilst seven tenths split the P2 runners, the quickest of which, the #99 JDC Miller/Gainsco Oreca was about 1.4 seconds off the pace of the #90 SDR Cadillac. Oreca hold the advantage in LMP2, all four chassis ahead of the two Ligier entries.

Headlines in GTLM also this weekend as the BMW M8 GTE took its first pole position, Connor de Phillippi beating the 2017 lap record by a tenth with a time of 1:55.839. It was by no means an easy pole for the BMW however, James Calado in the Risi Competizione Ferrari came within just 0.058 of the pole time whilst Joey Hand also challenged the #25 BMW but to no aveil. By the end of the session, the top six were split by just 0.412s, the #24 BMW rounded out the top three whilst Ford Chip Ganassi Racing took fourth and fifth and the 912 Porsche 911 RSR took sixth position.

The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari took pole position in GTD in the hands of Daniel Serra who has teamed up the Aston Martin GTE Am factory line up of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.

Gunnar Jeannette took an early lead in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, posting a time of 1:59.609 early on in the session. Serra was quickly up to speed, going just over a tenth slower on his first flying lap, Jack Hawksworth the same behind Serra in the #15 Lexus before both Christopher Mies and Jack Hawksworth briefly each topped the time charts. Serra continued to push hard though and made it four provisional pole sitters in just a matter of minutes, five GTD cars under the previous lap record. The battle went down to the closing minutes, Serra taking a further few tenths out of his lap time was now 1 second below the previous record and half a second clear of Christopher Mies in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

The 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps kicks off a new era for the FIA World Endurance Championship on May 5th as the premier series for long-distance sports car racing launches its unique ‘super-season’ – and you can be there to witness it with Speed Chills.

As you may have seen, your favourite motor racing travel operator has some great offers for the race at Belgium’s majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit – and it got us thinking: what exactly is it about this place that makes it a mecca for motorheads?

Having fun at Spa Francorchamps

So here it is: our six-point guide to the jewel of European motor racing. If you haven’t been, it’s a must for any bucket list. And if you have, well, treat this as a reminder why a return is long overdue.

1. Spectators’ paradise

From Les Combes to Rivage, down to No Name and Pouhon, sweeping through the Les Fagnes esses to Stavelot and on to Blanchimont… there’s no finer strip of race track anywhere in the world. The elegant pines of the Ardennes forests make for a stunning setting as the circuit climbs through the epic Eau Rouge and Raidillon, then along the Kemmel straight before swooping and diving back through the valley over 4.3 magnificent miles. Our tip: take a decent pair of walking boots and stroll all the way up to the inside of Rivage. The views all the way back to the paddock are stunning, and there’s nowhere better to watch (and listen) to the world’s finest racing cars.

2. The adorable Ardennes

There’s something in the air around these parts – and we don’t just mean the odd drop of rain… Even away from the circuit, you can almost taste the motor racing history that has seeped into this ancient woodland over the past near-century. Francorchamps village, just a wander up the hill from La Source and the prime location for the Speed Chills guest houses, is quite charming – the perfect place to relax with a glass of something good after a day at the races. And a visit to the town of Spa itself, connected by superb Belgian country roads, is worth a visit too – especially if you’re looking for somewhere with a touch of class to eat. Fine restaurants are plentiful.

Porsche 911 GTE-Pro at Spa Francorchamps

3. frites and mayonnaise: magnifique!

But in truth, who needs haute cuisine when you can indulge in the pride of Belgian fare. After a long hike around the circuit’s sweeps, the sustenance from a portion of local frites topped with a dollop of mayo will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted – and that’s a cast-iron promise. We know: you’re thinking ‘they’re only chips’. But think again. In these parts, they are a genuine delicacy that are an essential side order to a weekend feast of motor racing.

4. Belgian beer (hic!)

And what better way to wash them down than with a glug of the area’s famous local mineral water… Only joking! Belgium is quite correctly famous for its range of dark and blond beers. Our next vital tip: tuck the car up for the night and take a table at L’Acqua Rossa or Le Relais de Pommard in Francorchamps. The food is good; a quaffed beer or three even better.

5. The awesome old circuit

‘If you love the new circuit, you should have seen the old one…’ It’s something of a cliché for old timers to rave about the ‘old’ Spa – but clichés usually only enter the lexicon because of a fundamental truth, and that’s certainly the case here. Brian Redman, veteran of fearsome Porsche 917s and Ford GT40s and one of the finest sports car races ever, admits he used to cry himself to sleep the night before a race, such was his white fear for the flat out 8.7-mile triangle. Where the modern track turns right at Les Combes, the original circuit ploughed straight on downhill to Burnenville, sweeping right and on to Masta before turning again at Stavelot for the tree-lined blast back to Blanchimont. A true road course, it’s all still there to experience – albeit at a somewhat more modest pace than Henri Pescarolo’s all-time lap record set in 1973 (in a Matra sports car, not a Formula 1) of 163mph… Do not even consider visiting Spa without a drive around the old track, ideally after digging out some old photos to understand just how crazy it used to be. You’ll be mesmerised.

6. Be a part of history

A trip this year to the 6 Hours will stand out in the memory for one more significant reason: the birth of the exciting ‘super-season’. In a bid to break with tradition and end a world championship season at Le Mans in June, WEC’s organisers have chosen a new format for their series. Starting at Spa, the championship will then head for the famous 24 Hours at Le Mans, before three more six-hour rounds at Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai complete the schedule for 2018. But the season won’t stop with the calendar year. In March 2019 it continues with a new 1500-mile race at Sebring in Florida, before returning to Spa for another 6 Hours and finishing at Le Mans. So yes, two 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps and two Le Mans 24 Hours counting for one, single season. It will surely live up to its ‘super’ status.

Oh, and if this isn’t all reason enough for a visit, there’s also the small matter of a certain Spaniard making his WEC debut at Spa this year. Some bloke from F1. Fernando Alonso, we believe he’s called. In a Toyota LMP1.

Toyota LMP1 at Spa Francorchamps

You won’t want to miss that, will you? Come on: what are you waiting for? More on the WEC 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

The capital is the place to be this week for car and racing enthusiasts as the London Classic Car Show returns to the cavernous halls of the ExCel complex.

If you head to the ExCel (and you really should) be sure to pop by the Speed Chills stand in the Historic Motorsport International Show section (HM133) where you can win a trip for four to Le Mans Classic this summer. Scooping that prize really would make your visit worthwhile.

Historic Motorsport International 2018

Highlights of previous shows include curated displays celebrating the careers of F1 design heroes Adrian Newey and Gordon Murray, while six-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx made a rare public appearance in Britain last year to celebrate his 70th birthday. He was on great form, as I found out first-hand during a privileged one-on-one interview before the show opened.

So the 2018 edition has a lot to live up. Thankfully, the line-up looks certain to deliver once again.

Nigel Mansell is guest of honour this time around and will receive the show's Icon Award. The 1992 F1 World Champion (who, you might remember, also made an ignominious appearance at Le Mans in 2010, crashing out early on) will appear on Sunday afternoon and is bound to draw a crowd. He always does.

Among the cars from his career that will be on display is the Williams-Renault FW14B in which he claimed his F1 title in emphatic fashion more than 25 years ago. Hard to believe it was that long ago.

Another draw will be the Getaway Car display curated by TV actor Philip Glenister (he of Ashes to Ashes fame and therefore a man who will always be associated with the Audi Quattro). For me, a Jaguar Mk2 has to be the ultimate getaway car, in real life or fiction, so I was cheered to see Glenister agrees. One is among his collection.

More motoring personalities will appear on stage at the Supagard Theatre, situated in the sister Historic Motorsport International show taking place in a nearby hall (and open to all Classic Car ticket holders). My old mate Henry Hope-Frost is hosting and will ensure plenty of entertaining chatter to complement the wonderful array of machinery on display.

The London Classic Car Show, which uniquely includes a Grand Avenue upon which road and racing cars parade each day, opens on Thursday evening with a special preview, then runs through Friday and into the weekend.

Speaking of Le Mans, you can't have missed the big news for this year's 24 Hours in June. I must admit, I thought it was a long shot for 2018 – but it's confirmed: Fernando Alonso is heading for La Sarthe to make his Le Mans debut in a Toyota hybrid LMP1.

What a huge boost for the race, particularly in the wake of Porsche's withdrawal. Alonso's status in F1 will make him the headline figure in June and even if one driver can't make up for Porsche's LMP1 absence, his presence will probably draw more attention to the great race this year than we've seen for a while.

Can he win first time out, as his F1 comrade Nico Nulkenberg did a couple of years ago for Porsche? Well, that's absolutely his intention. And with Toyota bound to be hot favourites in the absence of ‘factory' opposition, the Spaniard knows he has a great chance.

He should at least get further than Mansell managed... Then again, he'll also be more than aware that he can't take anything for granted, especially give the team he's driving for. Toyota's hoodoo at Le Mans is becoming a heavy weight for the Japanese giant to bear as each year passes. To win the race, Alonso and his team-mates will have to beat the race – and that is something Toyota has famously never achieved, despite a chain of painful close calls.

What a time to lift the curse. It's going to be unmissable.

Remember to visit Speed Chills on stand HM133!

This afternoon in Paris, the ACO/FIA unveiled the entrance list for the 2018/2019 FIA World Endurance Championship "Super Season" and the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The "Super Season" consists of 36 entries across the four categories with teams representing 12 different countries. The grid consists of 10 LMP1 cars, 7 entries in LMP2, 10 entries in GTE Pro with the addition of BMW for this year and 9 entries in GTE Am.

"It's very satisfying to have 36 competitors including six major manufacturers and a good balance between prototypes and GTEs. This is just the start!" WEC CEO Gerard Neveu said. "Now the show goes on and we are confident the figures will continue to increase as they have done for the last six years. Welcome to the Super Season!"

After Porsche pulled out of the championship towards the end of 2016, everyone thought LMP1 was done but just six months later, there are 10 full season entries in the class, one of which has Fernando Alonso at the wheel. Toyota recently announced their updated TS050 for the 2018-2019 season and a commitment to the sport and the championship to help them develop further their hybrid technology.

Toyota will be the only two hybrid cars on the grid this year which features eight privately entered cars. Rebellion make a return to LMP1 with the R13, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani included in the line-up after making the switch from Porsche.

ByKolles dropped out of the 2017 season after the European leg to focus on developing the 2018 car. They will make a return to the championship this season in the ENSO CLM P1/01. They will be joined by two CEFC TRSM Racing entries, the new Ginetta G60 LT-P1.

BR1 LMP1 2018

BR Engineering unveiled their new car in Bahrain at the end of 201, two of them will be run by SMP Racing who return to the series for the first time since 2016 with an AER engine and the third will be run by Dragon Speed who have established a new driver line up that includes Renger van der Zande and Ben Hanley. In LMP2, there will be seven entries across three different chassis manufacturers, Oreca, Dallara and Ligier. Signatech Alpine Matmut and TDS Racing make a return alongside Jackie Chan DC Racing. Along with their LMP1 entrant, DragonSpeed will also field an LMP2 entry and Racing Team Nederland join the championship with Giedo ven der Garde leading their line up. Making their return to the FIA WEC, Larbre Competition make the switch from the GTE Corvette in to LMP2 having sat out the 2017 season.

GTE sees the addition of BMW to the grid this year with the M8 GTE, the two cars will line up alongside the all new Aston Martin Vantage AMR, (with two new drivers this year, Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin). AF Corse Ferrari of course return with the latest generation 488GTE whilst Ford return with the two Chip Ganassi Team UK GT's and Porsche return with the latest generation 911 RSR.

The LM GTE class is the largest it has been this year featuring nine full season entries across three different manufacturers. 2017 champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return for Aston Martin and will be joined by a second Aston entered by TF Sport. Clearwater Racing return to the championship alongside Spirit of Race along with new entry MR Racing. The Aston Martins and Ferrari's will be joined by four Porsche 911 RSRs from Depsey Proton Racing, Gulf Racing and Project 1.

Start of the Le Mans 24 Hours

The entry list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans was released shortly after the WEC announcement with a capacity grid of 60 cars announced for the event due to take place on June 16th-17th.

All 10 LMP1 cars will challenge for the overall win, eight non-hybrid LMP1 cars alongside the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids.

In LMP2, there will be three chassis manufacturers represented this year with entries from Ligier, Oreca and Dallara. The 7 full season entries will be joined by 13 other LMP2 entries totalling 20 LMP2 prototypes alongside the 10 LMP1.

17 cars have been entered in the GTE Pro class at Le Mans with Ford also entering the two IMSA GT's along with Porsche who will also field the two American 911's. Corvette return for the French endurance classic whilst Ferrari will also field an additional 488 GTE under the AF Corse team.

In GTE Am, the 9 full season entrants will be joined by an additional four cars from Ebimotors, JMW Motorsport, Proton Competition and Keating Motorsports. There are nine reserve entries this year including Scuderia Corsa, Krohn Racing and BAR1.

Alongside the FIA WEC and Le Mans entry release this afternoon, Ginetta confirmed their first two drivers for the G60-LT-P1 which will both be run by CEFC TRSM Racing (Manor Endurance). Formula 2 race winner Oliver Rowland and 2015 European Le Mans Series LMP3 Champion Charlie Robertson will each pilot one of the cars.

Ginetta LMP1 2018 - Manor Endurance

Ginetta Chairman Lawrence Tomlinson said; "I'm delighted to confirm that CEFC TRSM Racing will be running a two car effort in the FIA WEC and LE Mans 24 Hours. Our LMP1 project has brought together some of the brightest stars in motorsport design and engineering, and the next chapter will see CEFC TRSM Racing announcing driving talent of equally high measure. Personally, I am delighted to see Charlie Robertson's name on the entry list. We have taken him from a 14 year old experiencing his very first race car in the Ginette Junior Championship, all the way to the pinnacle of international motorsport and that's something we strive to do for every one of our drivers."

Graeme Lowdon, President and Sporting Director: "We are very happy to welcome Oliver to the team, we have followed him closely over the years and have been very impressed with his performances. Although this will be his first season in sports cars we have every confidence that he will adapt to LMP1 very quickly. It is great to be returning to FIA WEC and we are looking forward to starting the season at the Prologue in April."

Oliver Rowland, Driver: "I am very excited to be joining TRSM for the LMP1 World Endurance Championship. Endurance racing is a new experience for me and it will create a fresh challenge, but I am really looking forward to working with the team and driving such an amazing car.

Competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is extremely exciting and it's something that I've always wanted to race in. I can't wait to get started with the team to ensure we get the best out of the package and moving forward seeing if we can challenge for some fantastic results in the championship."

Felipe Albuquerque brought the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac home with 808 laps complete to take the distance record and Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona victory. Albuquerque was under instruction from the team to lift and coast during the final hour, even switching off the engine completely in an effort to keep the overheating issue under control. He crossed the line with a 70 second lead over the #31 Whelen Engineering car to take his first overall victory at Daytona whilst Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa celebrate their third each.

British GT4 Champion and Sunoco Challenge winner Stuart Middleton took the #31 car home in second place ahead of Colin Braun in the #54 CORE Autosport P2. The #32 United Autosport Ligier was handed P4 late in the day with Antonio Felix De Costa called into the pits for a penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Will Owen took the #32 car home 15 seconds ahead of De Costa. Middleton takes the record for the youngest podium finisher in the Rolex 24, a record he took from team mate Felipe Nasr who previously claimed it in the 2012 event.

Taking 11th place overall, the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT won the GTLM class.

"It was just an amazing 24-hour race," said Westbrook. "Racing with our team-mates, they're our friends, and racing that hard for 24 hours, there was just nothing in it. It felt like ages we were just one second apart. It was just incredible and was so intense. I thought we put on a really good show. To come away with the 200th win for Chip and have Dan Gurney on our car made it ever so sweet."

"To get to drive a Ford GT is just a dream come true and to win the Rolex 24 is just awesome," added Briscoe.

It was a disappointing start for BMW with the new M8 GTE which finished seventh and ninth in GTD. BMW felt they were hit badly by the Balance of Performance guidelines and will be looking to discuss this with IMSA officials before the next round of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in March at Sebring International Raceway.

The #11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini took the win in GTD, claiming Lamborghinis first ever 24 hour race victory, not just for the Huracan but overall. Despite starting at the back of the grid, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, Franck Perera and Rolf Ineichen fought through the pack to take the win.

Stefano Domenicali, the Chairman and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, was delighted to see the Italian mark on the top step of the podium: "First of all I would like to congratulate the Grasser Racing Team and the Paul Miller Racing Team for this extraordinary result," said Domenicali. "The first and third position in GTD class represent something special, obtained in one of the most famous endurance races in the world. Along with them the drivers, who did a fantastic job and have conducted our cars in an impeccable way.

"A special thanks to the whole team of Lamborghini Squadra Corse, from our Chief Technical Officer Maurizio Reggiani to the Head of Motorsport Giorgio Sanna and to all those who work with passion every day in motorsport at Sant'Agata Bolognese, but also worldwide in the various championships where Lamborghini is racing with its cars and its customer teams.

"I was also particularly pleased to see the Italian flag waving on the podium in Florida. The United States is a reference market for us and having achieved such an important victory in the US gives us the boost to continue improving both on motorsport and product side."

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

As the race closed in on the half distance mark, the two Team Penske Acura's and the two Action Express Racing Cadillacs were more than two laps clear on the rest of the field. The #7 Penske Acura held the lead in the hands of Ricky Taylor before the next round of pit stops with fierce competition from Joao Barbosa (#5 Mustang Sampling Racing) and Felipe Nasr in the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. The young Brazilian's experience was shining through, and was demonstrated by a great move which saw the #31 jumped from fourth in to second. From the exit of the infield on to the banking, Nasr tucked in behind the #5 and #6 Acura's, around the banking and down the back straight before pulling out of the slip stream and beating both cars on the brakes into the bus stop chicane.

The #2 Tequila Patron ESM and #23 United Autosport cars were both suffering mechanical faults. Ryan Dalziel was forced into the pits with gearbox issues on the #2 car whilst Fernando Alonso was forced into the pits with a brake master cylinder failure. Lando Norris took the wheel as the car emerged from the pits after a 40 minute stint in the garage.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing were dominating in GT Le Mans, Dirk Muller leading the way in the #66 car from the #67 of Ryan Brisco with just a couple of seconds between them. Corvette were standing strong in third and fourth with Laurens Vanthoor rounding out the top five in the #912 Porsche GT 911 RSR.

In GT Daytona, the #33 Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes AMG of British GT and Blancpain racer Adam Christodoulou was leading the way from the #11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Rolf Ineichen.

As we passed the 12 hour point, Graham Rahal lost control of the #7 Acura under breaking into turn one, with competition at the front so close, Rahal dropped down to fourth before he could get the car going again. Simon Pagenaud inherited the lead in the #6 sister car with Christian Fittipaldi taking second in the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac and Toyota factory driver Mike Conway moving into third in the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing car. The four cars were split by just 20 seconds with Fittipaldi and Conway running nose to tail.

Ford were still running nose to tail in GTLM with Dirk Muller and Ryan Briscoe over a lap ahead of Mike Rockefeller and Marcel Fassler in the two Corvettes.

By the end of hour 13 Jan Magnussen (#3) was one lap down on the two Fords whilst Oliver Gavin was two laps down in the #4.

The front four were still out in front of the rest of the field, the cars swapping positions through the pitstops Mike Conway was in the lead by the end of hour thirteen. The gap between the four cars was beginning to grow and was now out to thirty five seconds. Dane Cameron held second place at the wheel of the #6 Team Penske Acura thirteen seconds behind whilst Christian Fittipaldi now back in third having led in the previous hour. Graham Rahal was still in fourth having spun in the previous hour and pushing to close the gap. Pipo Derani lost a lap on the leaders having regained in in the past hour. The #22 Tequila Patron ESM was two laps down in fifth place. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota sat sixth in the hands of Felix Rosenqvist. Ho-Pin Tung had issues in the sister Jackie Chan DC car left the track at the Bus Stop Chicane, damaging the rear wing and rear body work.

Pipo Derani came in to the pits shortly into the fourteenth hour with smoke pouring from the engine. A blown turbo charger knocked the #22 Tequila Patron ESM out of contention. The #31 Cadillac continued to pull ahead at the front of the pack with just three cars left on the lead lap now. Having got into the car a couple of hours previously, young Lando Norris was lapping almost a second quicker than the race leaders.

Filipe Albuquerque retook the lead at the end of hour 15 in the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. The Portuguese driver lead a three way fight for the lead between the Cadillacs and the #7 Team Penske Acura which now had Helio Castroneves at the wheel. Eric Curran in the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac began the hour in the lead from Action Express Racing team-mate Albuquerque but was soon delayed as rear brake light failure necessitated changing the rear wing in a off-sequence pit-stop. The stop dropped him a minute and a half behind his team-mate and had dropped a lap off the leader by the end of the hour. Albuquerque took a 12 second lead as a result.

Bruno Senna sat in fourth place in the #32 United Autosports Ligier two laps down on the top 3. Former Audi driver Loic Duval held fifth in the #54 Core Autosports Oreca.

In GTLM, Ford were still leading the way comfortably, Sebastien Bourdais leading the #67 Ford of Scott Dixon. Corvette were over a lap behind still, Antonio Garcia holding third place in the #3. The two Fords switched positions every couple of laps, the gap holding at less than a second as they swapped positions around the banking, it was a fantastic display of precision driving from the two cars, neither driver putting a foot wrong. Antonio Garcia was out on his own, one lap up on Tommy Milner but a lap behind the Fords.

It was a tough debut for BMW who were debuting the M8 GTE. The #25 car of Philipp Eng spent a prolonged period of time behind the wall.

In GTD, Alvaro Parente took the lead for Acura from the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini and the #11 GRT Lamborghini that had been running nose to tail for most of the hour. Trent Hindman gave the #86 Acura over to Parente who quickly set about hunting down the #48 Lamborghini Perera under went a full brake change at the pit stop and dropped down the order to fifth.

A third Full Course Yellow during hour 16 but all attention was on the outcome of unseen contact to the #7 Team Penske Acura saw the car pulled into the garage for repairs. Hello Castroneves dropped a number of laps and as a result, the #32 United Autosports car inherited third.

The Full Course Yellow was caused by Jorg Bergmeister who ran wide through the Bus Stop Chicane, the Park Place Motorsports car span and made contact with the inside wall. Bergmeister got the car going again and continued on down in twelfth place in GTD. A number of cars took the opportunity to pit for new tyres and fuel under the FCY; the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini took the opportunity for a brake replacement and tyres, gifting the lead back to the #11 GRT Lamborghini. The #48 returned to the race in third. The caution period lasted for fifteen minutes before returning to green. The #5 car lead the restart and quickly lapped the #31 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac which had suffered issues in the previous stint.

Renger van der Zander suffered yet another right rear puncture before the team made the decision to withdraw the car from the race on safety grounds. Speaking on IMSA Radio, "I can't put into words how disappointing this has been for our partners, the team, the drivers" Wayne Taylor said after retiring the car. "We had a tyre failure with Jordan in the car once, we went to Continental and we were within the tyre pressures. We continued on and Renger had six or seven catastrophic failures. We have gone through so many parts on the car that now, because nobody can tell us what is happening, I can not afford to put a driver at risk."

With the sun rising over Daytona, the #5 was pushed back into the garage for a service under Full Course Yellow conditions. The car had been losing water overnight resulting in overheating. The car was back on track with minimal delay. The #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura GTD caused the off FCY after briefly leaving the track.

Having suffered from a multitude of issues throughout the race, the #55 Mazda Team Joest car pulled onto the side of the track, the rear of the car engulfed in flames. Jonathan Bomarito exited the car safely as the marshals extinguished the blaze. The #55 had been running fifteenth at the time, aiming for a top ten finish. The #77 sister was was later pushed in behind the wall. At the front, Colin Braun was pushing hard in the #54 CORE Autosports P2 car, hunting down third place which was currently occupied by the #32 United Autosport Ligier.

Ford were still dominant in GTLM, the two #66 and #67 GT's a lap up on Corvette. The #3 car was arguably still in contention should something happen to either one of the Fords.

Katherine Legge was slowly catching the GTD class leader in the #86 Acura NSX as the sun rose higher over the Florida coast line. Having run off the circuit and through an advertising banner at the International Horseshoe in front of other cars, Legge was under stewards investigation. Running through the advertising barrier resulted in debris and sandbags being scattered all over the track which led to a Full Course Yellow.

Mike Conway's hopes of taking victory came to an end in the 19th hour. The #31 Cadillac lost three laps due to a leak in the radiator system which saw the car return to the its to be refilled. Unlike the #5 Cadillac which was suffering from similar issues, Conway pitted under full green flag running and lost a substantial amount of time to the race leaders. The problem struck for Conway in the midst of battle with Christian Fittipaldi as the pair raced through the Daytona infield. Fitipaldi was left with a comfortable lead but he was under pressure from Colin Braun who was fighting to reclaim a lap on the leaders. Brauns move on Fittipaldi meant he was now on the same lap as the third place #32 United Autosport Ligier and in genuine contention for third place. Braun took the quickest lap of the race at this point, taking two seconds from Will Own in the Ligier. Braun took third place shortly after, Paul Di Resta had clutch problems leaving the pits but eventually got going with the clutch removed. The #32 car was now running firth behind Ho-Pin Tung in the #78 Jackie Chan DC Oreca. Meanwhile, it was more bad luck for the #23 United Autosport Ligier as it was back behind the wall.

The previous FCY had eliminated Fords advantage in GTLM, the #3 Corvette with Mike "Rocky" Rockenfeller was right under the rear wing of Ryan Briscoe in the #67 Ford but was unable to get by. The fight was on as the race entered the final hours. Adam Christodoulou was leading GTD but was out of sync on the pitstops, in reality, it was the #11 GRT Lamborghini with Lamborghini factory driver Mirko Bortolotti at the wheel that would hold the lead once Christodoulou stopped. The #11 GRT crew had put in a stunning performance having started the race last due to a qualifying infringement. but halfway through hour 19, with the Mercedes in the pits, Bortolotti took the lead from the #48 Paul Miller Motorsports Lamborghini. The #86 Michael Shank Acura held third place. The #29 Monaplast Land Audi of Christopher Mies had fought his way back up the field and now sat in sixth place. The #51 Spirit of Racing Ferrari ended the hour in the wall at the Bus Stop, Paul Dalla Lana made heavy contact with the tyre wall.

Back at the front, Joao Barbosa held a four lap lead and backed off the pace a fraction to conserve the car, putting in a record length stint in the process of 24 laps. Felipe Nasr held second place in the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac but he had Loic Duval rapidly closing the gap in the #53 Core Autosports Oreca. Both lead Cadillacs were still suffering from overheating issues but whilst Barbosa could ease off the pace to save the car, Nasr was having to push to hold of the advancing Duval.

Despite the gap closing dramatically in GTLM between the Fords and third place Corvette at the end of the last caution period, both of the Chip Ganassi GTs managed to pull out a 40 second advantage by the end of hour 21. Risi Competition suffered another right rear puncture which dropped them to the rear of the GTLM field. Speculation from the pit lane during the night questioned whether Continental had issued 12 month old tyres which was resulting in the failures? The more likely cause of failures was the amount of green flag running we have seen this year. The 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona is on track to be a record breaking distance race.

Filipe Albuquerque held a comfortable lead as the race entered the penultimate hour of the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Albuquerque had backed off the ultimate pace to ensure the engine made it to the end of the race. As a result the four lap advantage the team had held just a couple of hours previously was now down to just one lap over the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. All of a sudden, having been 3 laps down, Mike Conway was now back in the game. His focus however was on the car behind him and securing a 1-2 finish for Action Express Racing. By the end of the hour, the CORE Autosport car had dropped back a lap on Conway.

Slightly further behind, the battle was raging for fourth place between Bruno Senna (#32) and Antonio Felix de Costa in the #78 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. De Costa was hit with a drive thru penalty for speeding in the pits which saw Senna extend his lead. Juan Pablo Montoya was also handed a drive thru penalty after forcing the #29 Audi of Kelvin van der Linde off the circuit on the infield Kink.

The #23 United Autosports Ligier was back behind the wall with further undisclosed issues.

In GTLM, it was the same old story; Ford out front, the #66 leading at this point in time as we near the end of hour 23 by just 2.3 seconds. Jan Magnussen was a lap off the pair down in third.

Lamborghini continued to lead the way in GTD and are on track for their first ever 24 Hour race win. Lamborghini have never won a 24 hour race be-it Daytona, Nurburging, Le Mans or Spa to name but a few. It is Mirko Bortolotti who leads the way for Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. The car that started last after a qualifying infringement, carries a 30 second lead over the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Alvaro Parente.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

As the halfway point looms closer, it is the #5 Mustang Sampling Motorsport leading the way, as it has since the green flag started the race. Ford Chip Ganassi have found their footing in the GT Le Mans class and have steadily been increasing their lead over the Corvette Racing cars who round off the top three. It had been the #29 Montaplast GT Daytona car dominating the scene, but a long stop/go penalty just a few hours ago has handed the advantage to Mercedes-running #33 Team Riley Motorsport.

Cadillac and tyres were the talk of the opening ten hours of racing at the 56th Rolex 24 at Daytona, with both aspects dominating the race. Cadillac had shown the pace over the week, but within the first hour the manufacturer had locked out the top four. Helio Castroneves and the #7 Team Penske have been the only non-Cadillac running Prototype to put in any sort of challenge for the overall victory, currently running second to the Mustang Sampling car.

It was drama from before the green flag as the #58 Wright Motorsport Porsche suffered damage. On cold tyres, the car was lost on the formation lap and spun, hitting heavily into the barriers. The car limped back to the pits, unable to make the start. It returned to the track two and a half hours into the race, currently running in last place.

The battle for the prototype/overall lead of the race originally looked to be a battle between the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing and the #5 Mustang Sampling, but a puncture saw the #10 drop down the grid with a lot of work to do if they wished to repeat their successes from last year. Punctures would quickly become the talk of the race as car after car made an unscheduled pit stop to replace damaged tyres.

The battle was actually between #5 and #7 as the Team Penske crew fought hard to overcome the pace deficit they had on the Cadillac-running cars. Pit stop cycles keep swapping the cars, but at the time of publishing it’s the #5 Cadillac controlling the race.

The only change to this came in the sixth hour of the race. The rain had started to fall, and Mike Conway pitted his #31 Whelen Engineering Racing at the perfect time to swap for wet weather tyres. He was rapid off the bat, blasting into the lead of the race with superior pace and skills on the damp track. Unfortunately, this only lasted until the rain stopped and the track began to dry. After that, normal proceedings of Mustang Sampling vs Team Penske returned.

Fernando Alonso’s 24-hour race debut got off to a strong start as he finished his first hour stint in ninth place overall. His team mates Lando Norris and Phil Hanson continued his good work to get the #23 United Autosports placed eighth overall as the highest placed LMP2 car on track. However, just before publishing the #23 was taken behind the wall for repairs and has yet to return to the circuit.

Only two full course yellows have hindered the racing in the first half of the race, with significantly better weather conditions this year compared to last. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsport was making an impressive debut at the IMSA Rolex 24 at Daytona when, in the third hour, it ran out of fuel at the oval.

The second full course caution came in the early stages of the morning. The #52 Mathiasen Motorsport came out of the pits on cold tyres and pushed too hard. The result was a big spin into the barrier with a lot of debris to clean up. The second full course caution lasted about twenty minutes.

GT Le Mans has been dominated by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing since the third hour. It had looked like Corvette Racing were going to put in a decent fight for the lead, but the two Ford GTs have disappeared into the distance with a competitive 1-2 in class.

The Porsche 911 RSRs have started to come to life in the last few hours. The #911 Porsche GT Team car was competitively fighting for the last spot of the podium in hour six and seven; and is still in contention now as they battle with the #62 Ferrari Risi Competizione. They are still within a big chance of taking a podium finish in their first race of the year.

James Calado had some misfortune in the #62 which dropped the car down to fourth in class. A loose door saw him have to take an unscheduled pit stop during the first full course caution, meaning that he lost time in his stop. The Ferrari team are currently in a close battle with the two Porsches holding the positions in front and behind them.

The GT Daytona class looked to be in the hands of the #29 Monatplast, with the promise of a to-the-line battle with the #33. But race stewards dashed that hope when they handed the GTD leader a 5 minute stop and go penalty for a violation of the balance of Performance. Monatplast team boss thought the issue was to do with the fuel flow rate, but nothing further has been said on the matter.

The Ferraris have dropped back a bit in GTD, leaving the lead to be taken and extended by the Mercedes #33. It had looked like the Ferraris were going to be a threat to the front runners, but such pace has not been seen since around the third hour of the race.

Amid all the damage and issues the cars have been having, particularly the two Mazda prototypes that hav been in and out of the pits for repairs and electrical issues througout the first half of the race, only one car has officially retired from the race. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac was forced to park in the garage as a misfire issue plauged the car in the ninth hour and was not repairable. A maximum of 49 cars will take the chequered flag.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

A staggering lap from Renger van der Zande gave last year’s overall winners, #10 Wayne Taylor Racing, pole position ahead of the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona. It was a very close battle in the Prototype Class, with less than 100th of a second splitting the top two. Corvette Racing took glory in the GT Le Mans class, whilst the Spirit of Race/AF Corse #51 crew took pole in the GT Daytona class.

Helio Castroneves was favourite to claim pole ahead of the first 24 hour race of the year after the #7 Penske Acura had been the pacesetter throughout practice sessions. He started the session strong, taking the ARX-05 to provisional pole with a 1:36.090. However, the session was far from over and a late surge from Dutch-driver van der Zande put him 0.007 seconds faster than the #7 Penske to steal pole position.

Cadillac continued to prove their strength in the new DPi era, with Filipe Albuquerque placing the #5 Action Express Racing car third on the grid. He was close to the top two fight, but fell 0.111 seconds off fellow Cadillac driver van der Zande at the chequered flag.

With the top three locked out by DPi runners, Pato O’Ward could only place his LMP2 ORECA fourth fastest. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsport car set a 1:36.318, two tenths off the top three times. But it was a close battle for O’Ward to hold onto fourth as the Spirit of Daytona #90 pressured for a second-row start.

After a year away from Cadillac, Spirit of Daytona have returned to the manufacturer this season, away from the LMP2 chassis and back to a DPi one. It looks to have been a good decision as the team were only 0.154 seconds off fourth place. It should mean the team can have a competitive season ahead of them, starting off very strong.

Robin Frijns in the #37 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA qualified sixth while Felipe Nasr made it two Action Express cars in the top ten, taking seventh. #54 CORE Racing will start the race from eighth place.

Jonathan Bomarito was the only Joest-run Mazda driver to set a time in qualifying, putting the #55 ninth. The Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast/Oliver Jarvis sister car did not take part in qualifying. Despite setting the fastest time in the first practice session, an undisclosed technical issue side-lined the car from the start of qualifying. The #2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi also did not take part in qualifying.

Fernando Alonso set a 1:37.008 in his first 24-hour race qualifying session. Alonso described the qualifying session as the “least important qualifying session” he would ever take part in, referencing to the fact that in a 24-hour race, starting on pole is not that crucial. Along with team mates Lando Norris and Phil Hanson, he will start from P13 for Saturday’s race.

In their 20th year of racing, it was the best start for Corvette who claimed GT Le Mans pole position. Jan Magnussen set a lap time of 1:42.779 in the #3 that was unchallenged by any of the other competitors. However, it was not a calm drive to pole as Joey Hand in the #66 Ford GT piled the pressure on. At the chequered flag, however, Hand was not able to find the extra 0.019 seconds needed to take pole from the Dane.

Porsche locked out the second row with their two 911 RSR entrants, with Laurens Vanthoor piping Patrick Pilet for the top-three position in the closing stages of the session. The second Ganassi Ford could place no higher than fifth in class, but beta the second Corvette to the line, holding them down in sixth.

The sole GTLM Ferrari #62 Rizi Competizione settled for seventh on the grid, ahead of the two new BMW M8 GTEs. It was not the strongest start to the weekend for the team who were hopeful they could get a good result from the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but a 24-hour race is not over until the chequered flag.

Daytona’s GT class was led by the #51 Spirit of Race/AF Corse Ferrari with a lap time of 1:46.049. The strong driver line up of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda has proven very successful in the last few years. The addition of Daniel Serra (who set the pole time) will only make the line up stronger. Serra was four-tenths faster than Miguel Molina in the #82 Rizi Competizione Ferrari who took second on the grid.

Grasser Racing’s Mirko Bortolotti had qualified third, but after failing a stall test in post-qualifying tech inspections it has been demoted to the back of the grid. The #15 3GT Racing Lexus has been promoted up into the top three.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

Lewis Hamilton has cleaned out his social media history, apparently, after a thoughtless Christmas gaff involving some unfortunate comments about his little nephew wearing a princess dress caused the world champion a heap of angry heat.

Yep, that's as good as it gets on Formula 1 news this winter. Let's just say it's been a particularly quiet off-season in the Grand Prix world.

Thankfully, there's been plenty of real news to savour in sports car racing. Forget F1 - long-distance endurance racing has given motor racing fans plenty to chew on during the bleak midwinter.

First, there was the 'Roar before the Rolex 24', the traditional test weekend at the Daytona International Speedway in early January that offered action-starved race fans something of real nourishment to savour.

Cadillac's DPi dominated, with Action Express, Spirit of Daytona and Wayne Taylor Racing showing the rest the way. Felipe Nasr, recently of Sauber F1 fame, set the pace in the final day 'qualifying' session that decides garage allocations for the race itself on January 27-28. He's raced at Daytona before, way back in 2012, so the Brazilian shouldn't have any trouble recalibrating to long-distance sports car racing at the end of this month.

Roar Before the Rolex 24 Cadillac DPi

The bigger question will be whether Fernando Alonso - a slightly higher profile and more successful F1 ace - can make the transition as smoothly.

The Spaniard was surprised at the lack of running he managed in his first taste of Daytona for the United Autosports team, driving an LMP2 Ligier JSP217. That was a consequence of the test schedule rather than a team shortfall, but whatever the reason, Alonso will be taking steps into the relative unknown come race weekend.

He was only 12th fastest at the 'Roar' in a car that isn't entirely suited to Daytona's mix of oval banking and twisty road course, but speed is hardly likely to be a problem for one of the great racing drivers of the modern era. What will test him is to know when and how to use that awesome natural ability.

Lapping traffic is a significant feature at Daytona, perhaps more than at any other sports car race thanks to the size of the grid and the - ahem - mixed quality of drivers. The Rolex 24 remains a genuine pro-am challenge, which makes for an unpredictable cocktail. Is a backmarker you are approaching an experienced hand who knows how to keep clear of contact while maintaining his own pace - or is it a so-called 'gentleman' driver who hasn't checked his mirrors? Alonso won't have a clue.

Victory at the Rolex 24 certainly looks a long shot for the two-time F1 champion, sharing with impressive youngsters Lando Norris and Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion Phil Hanson. Still, his progress will be fascinating and he's sure to be a huge story at Daytona.

And as the man himself has admitted, this is all about laying the groundwork for a future Le Mans campaign. When and in what car this will happen is impossible to say - sadly it looks unlikely to be 2018 and in a Toyota at this stage - but Le Mans is Alonso's real target.

For another genuine global motorsporting hero, Le Mans has also long been in his sights, but like Alonso, Alex Zanardi will be testing the waters at Daytona - although he has at least raced in GTs before.

The Italian, who lost his lower legs in a terrible Indycar crash back in 2001, told me when I interviewed him two summers ago that Le Mans was still an ambition for him. Now, with long-time manufacturer partner BMW, he has gone public on an aim to race at the Rolex 24 in 2019, with a specially adapted M8 GTE. After that, Le Mans will surely be next.

Zanardi is hugely popular in America after his dominance of Indycar racing in the late 1990s - and his accident only lifted his folk-hero status to new heights.

When I met him he was preparing for the Rio Paralympics, in his new sport of hand cycling. Success in Brazil added to his London medal haul in 2012, and he now has four golds and two silvers to add to the eight world titles he has won in this discipline. The man is quite incredible, up there with the most charismatic and inspiring racing drivers I ever had the good fortune to meet.

He'll be a huge draw at Daytona next year.

Many thousands of miles from the Florida speedbowl and a little closer to home, there was more to whet sports car appetites this week.

The annual Autosport International racing car show took place in Birmingham, where the wraps came off Ginetta's striking new LMP1 car. Beside new racers from BR Engineering and Rebellion Racing, whose car will be seen for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show in March, the Ginetta represents a shot in the arm for privateer participation at Le Mans.

Ginetta G60 LMP1 Launch

As I wrote in my last blog for Speed Chills, new regulations promise to allow non-hybrid privateer entrant a genuine chance to compete with the technical masterpieces that have come from the factory teams in recent years - now reduced to one in the form of Toyota, following the consecutive withdrawals from first Audi and then Porsche.

Former F1 team Manor Motorsport will run at least one Ginetta at Le Mans in June, and appear to carry genuine hope that the new rules will give them a shot. The evidence of 2016, when an LMP2 almost won overall thanks to the problems endured by the factory hybirds, offers support to that point of view.

Sitting here right now in the depths of January, before the Ginetta has turned a wheel in anger, it's hard to believe Manor can really challenge Toyota. But the Japanese giant is famous for its abysmal record at the greatest race in the world - so who knows?

The day of the underdog could be about to return.

Whatever the reality, right now there is so much to look forward to as Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship begins a bright new era. And it's certainly more interesting than Lewis Hamilton's Twitter feed.

POSTSCRIPT: Before I sign off, I must add a word or two about another hero: Dan Gurney, the great American all-rounder whose death was announced on Monday morning this week.

For sports car fans, Gurney's headline achievement was sharing the winning Ford MkIV with AJ Foyt at Le Mans in 1967 - then subsequently inventing the tradition of spraying champagne.

But of course, that was just one glorious moment in a wonderfully full life. Gurney could race anything, anywhere. A winner in F1, sports cars, Can-Am, Indycars, Trans-Am and NASCAR, he also had a brilliant engineer's brain and in the Eagle Mk1 F1 car, was perhaps responsible for the best-looking Grand Prix car of all time - and one in which he conquered Spa just a week before that Le Mans win.

Later in life, Gurney's Eagles also took IMSA by storm in the high-powered GTP era of the 1980s and early '90s.

His life and career straddled the eras like only a handful of other racing men - and perhaps most impressively of all, he remained a much-loved gentleman through it all.

A great all-rounder in more ways than one, then. RIP.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

As the World Endurance Championship gears up for its opening salvo at Silverstone in a week’s time, the Speed Chills office has been filled with talk about which race we’re most looking forward to in the 2014 season. We ended up with an answer that, in a series that visits stunning circuits around the world, might be a bit unexpected...

eau rouge spaf 2011

By the time the WEC circus arrives in the Ardennes many people are starting to think about Le Mans, so the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps can sometimes be overlooked. It’s understandable when you’re just a few weeks away from the greatest race in the world, but it means that Spa often gets treated as a prologue rather than the amazing event it really is.

Spa is one of the world’s most spectacular tracks, and there’s no feeling like being there in person. There’s something about this 7k mash up of tarmac and nature that beckons you in then shoves you right back into the thick of the World Endurance Championship.

The open paddock and stellar pit walk give you the chance to hang around the garages, see the mechanics working feverishly and have a word with Mark Webber when he appears after his stint. The view from the inside of La Source, the first corner, is pretty special too, with multi-million pound prototypes shaving paint off their wing mirrors in search of a few precious hundredths.

And then they get the hammer down towards Eau Rouge. TV cameras can’t show how ridiculously steep this legendary corner really is, or how when you’re standing at the bottom of it you feel as if the cars are being shot out of a cannon in an attack on the Belgian countryside. The way that the GTEs look like they’re sinking into the tarmac is something that you can only experience if you’re there.

As with most circuits you can tell where the best bits of the track are by following the locals. They crowd onto the steep grass slopes with their beers and their camping chairs, a mass of Belgians stretching from Les Combes all the way down to No Name, where a good choice of viewing pitch nets the die hard fan a view all the way down to Pouhon. On a sunny day, surrounded by pine trees and V8s and with a cold beverage in hand, motor racing feels like it should do.

And that feeling starts before you even get to the track. When you leave the motorway behind and start down the snaking country roads, through green valleys and hairpin bends, it feels like something out of a 60s Bond film.

913972 565294186836084 405315800 o

The Racing Hotel where we stay is caught up in the history of the track, and the bar is covered with pictures and photos from across the years; the 25 hour spec 2CVs have to be seen to believed. If the weather coin has landed on heads then you can sit outside enjoying a beer in the hazy forest evening before strolling up the road for a meal. It all feels local and homemade, a racing mecca in a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere.

Nobody tells that to the teams, though. They all turn up eager to get points on the board, and the harsh nature of the Spa-Francorchamps track promises bragging rights that come in very valuable when preparing for Le Mans.

It’s a great place to see a bit of innovation, with many of the top teams using one or both of their cars to trial new and exciting bits of kit that might give them the edge at the 24. Last year Audi debuted their modern (and mildly disappointing) version of Porsche’s ‘langheck’ or longtail format from the 70s, and with the endurance legends making a return in 2014 each of the big manufacturers will be searching for the technical jump on their opponents.

There will be seven of the top tier LMP1-H prototypes at Spa in 2014 with 21 of the world’s best drivers vying for the chequered flag. There will be the battle between Lotus and the debuting Rebellion R-One in LMP1-L, the tense action brought by the LMP2 field, the manufacturer dogfight in GTE-Pro and the dirty slog that always makes up the GTE-Am field.

I can’t wait to grab a beer in the bar on top of the pits and feel the field fly by as the lights go green. It will be unmissable, and it’s a great opportunity to find out what the FIA World Endurance Championship is all about. And while it’s fair to start getting excited about Le Mans (to be honest that’s started already) don’t underestimate the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps; you’ll be missing out on one of the jewels in the sport’s crown.

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him at @speedchillsview

After a dominant performance in last year’s European Le Mans Series British privateers RAM Racing have made the move to the top of the food chain. We spoke to team regular Johnny Mowlem about the team’s hopes and worries for their assault on the 2014 World Endurance Championship.

RAM autograph

SCV: What are you expecting for RAM Racing this year?

JM: The depth of talent in the world championship is a lot more than in the European series, though that’s not to put down the ELMS in any way. I suspect that our dominance last year was down to us being super prepared for it, and it’ll be harder for us to be so prepared in a world championship because of the logistics and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

It’s harder for the team to be 100% ready for it; you prepare as best you can and hope you’re gonna cover all the possible pitfalls. But then again if you’d asked that last year I don’t think we’d have been so confident going into it, and then we dominated. I hope we’ll be competitive in both Pro and Pro-Am but we’ll see.

SCV: What kind of changes have you made for the WEC?

JM: We’ve actually kept the same cars; the Pro car has the newest kit on it but the Am car is exactly the same as we ran last year. The Pro car has a great line up with my 2013 teammate Matt Griffin alongside Alvaro Parente, and they’re joined by James Rossiter at Le Mans. That’s a very strong line up for the 24 and they should spring a few surprises.

On a personal level I’ve requested to go in Pro-Am, and that’s because I think there’s a bit more of a level playing field with a Ferrari team like RAM Racing against some of the other teams in the division, especially in terms of winning at Le Mans and in the world championship. Winning Le Mans is very much my dream, I’ve been fortunate enough to stand on the podium but I’ve never actually won my class there.

It’ll all depend on the BoP though. I think if you look at it from an objective point of view the Ferrari isn’t best placed at the moment with performance, particularly against Porsche who clearly have the best package right now in 2014 GT.

SCV: How well has the new team come together?

JM: Everybody knows Ben (Collins) from his exploits as the Stig but for me that’s irrelevant, it’s more his racing background. He was a race winner in British F3, he won the ASCAR, he’s always been extremely fast and competitive in everything he did and so I was under no illusions when he joined the team. He’s probably one of the best Silver drivers anywhere in the world and I think that will show this year.

Mark Patterson is our Bronze driver and he’s an absolutely phenomenal driver. I can’t speak highly enough of the way he’s settled into the team, it blew me away how consistent he is and how much he wants to learn. So on paper we should have a good season but you know it never works out how you hope.

Ram pano

SCV: How does having that wide variety of drivers affect the team?

JM: Ben and I help Mark out a lot but Ben doesn’t really need much help from me, he does look at my data to get him used to the car, but then we all look at each others data. It’s very much an open book and we’re all helping each other; we’re a two car team even though we’re on different sides of the garage and we’re in different divisions.

SCV: The first year in a world championship can be quite daunting, what do you hope to achieve this year?

We’re going to go out there and do the best job we can. If that means we end up winning then we’ll be delighted and if we come last then we won’t be so delighted, but either way we’ll carry on working really hard to improve. I don’t want to put too much pressure on me or the team for Le Mans, which is the big one, but it counts as double points so it’s important for the championship.

I’ve led my class there, I’ve had fastest laps and I’ve finished second in my class but I’ve never actually stood on the top step. I was fortunate enough to drive with Bob Wollek many years ago; I was his last professional team mate before the bike accident in which he was killed. He was a legend in sports cars and he also never managed to win at Le Mans; it’s not going to eat away at me but it’s something I’d like to achieve.

David Brabham said something very interesting to me last year: “There’s no difference when you’re standing on the top step of the podium as to whether you’re an overall or a class winner. The only difference is when you’re an overall winner you get a lot more attention the next day; the moment when you’re standing up there is the same and I’d like to find out if he’s right!

SCV: And finally… will we ever see a return for the fan favourite chrome livery?

Not this year, though we have got a bit more silver! The chrome livery looked great but it’s not necessarily the best car if you’re going to run a night race. We had a lot of trouble with flare coming off the fenders when we were driving, especially when the sun was going down, and it became a bit of a problem. We had to put stickers across the fenders in certain places to stop the dropping sun blinding you, it was really bright! It’s also really difficult to keep looking good over a season because you polish the shine off, but I really liked it myself, I can understand where the fans are coming from because I really enjoyed looking at it!

Johnny will contest the first round of the FIAWEC at the 6 Hours of Silverstone this weekend before heading first to Spa and then to Le Mans.

There are two very high profile names returning to the Le Mans 24 Hours in 10 days time. One is Porsche, with all of its history, records and baggage. The other… well, the other is Mark Webber, who you may have heard of. Speed Chills View speak to the F1 graduate about sketchy memories, changing class and the romance of Le Mans.

14154303209 377e84d8ef z

All the world’s press seem to have gathered in a small, bare room above the Porsche pit garages at the Circuit de la Sarthe. They’re here to catch a glimpse of a rather famous jaw, seemingly chiseled out of sandstone, that belongs to a rather famous Australian man.

Webber, fresh from a small job in the PR department of an energy drinks company, has finally made it back to the big leagues. His last visit was, as he says, a lifetime ago; a stint with the factory Mercedes team that ended upside down and midair. It’s not something he thinks about, apparently:

“It was 16 years ago so It's incredible what comes back to you and what doesn’t; I can't even remember what the entrance to the pits was like! I think the memories and the emotions will return when I start driving but I always enjoy it here, it's a great track.”

This time around he arrives at the Circuit de la Sarthe as a gritty veteran rather than a bright eyed youth. At the point in his career where many drivers would have called it a day, Mark decided to deal with some unfinished business: “Porsche and I were in touch for a long time and when they rung me up it would’ve been difficult to say no!”

“Driving for them is an honour, with the burden of their history and 16 wins. Their racing philosophy is extremely genuine too; it’s old school passion and precision, they love testing themselves in the toughest environments.”

On the scale of 1 to tough environments Le Mans definitely ranks near the top. Porsche’s new 919 Hybrid prototypes have to be flawless for two laps of the clock; any error within the car, behind the wheel or back on the pit wall can scupper their chances at a race which is famously unforgiving:

“It's busy and you need to be organised, but it's the same for everybody and that's the way it is now. Audi and Toyota have a lot more experience than us so we need to do the simple things well and not get too fancy at the moment.”

“But I love the team component of it, the fact that it’s not just about you. You all have to contribute and work really hard to get the car through the whole week. It also means that you don’t get over analysed for everything; I had that for so many years and now it’s just about the team and everyone contributing”

It’s clear (and understandable) that even after all the testing, set up work and two 6 Hour rounds of the World Endurance Championship he’s still suffering from a little F1 jet lag. Adapting to a new class of car is a difficult thing to do, especially so when you’ve spent 15 years in whiny single seaters:

14154395058 444e399714 z

“The things you notice are that the car is a lot heavier, which you really feel as a racing driver, and that the sensation of speed is really high because you’re sat behind a windscreen. So far I've been a bit better on the tracks which I have no experience on like Aragon, Portimao and Paul Ricard, just because at the F1 tracks you’ve been hard wired into the F1 mentality.”

“At Le Mans I've got a clean slate, there's no Formula 1 in my head. I wasn't slow at Spa or Silverstone but it was a bit more of an effort for me in the first five or six laps to accept what the car should do rather than what I want it to do. It takes a bit of time.”

And that time is precious. When he steps into the car for his first stint next Saturday he’ll only have a few hours of recent sports car racing experience to help him along. Getting settled in to a new team or a new car is always going to be difficult, but heading straight for the top of a class you haven’t driven in for so long? Mark’s task won’t be easy.

There’s one thing that’s much less of a chore for him, though: “I love driving at night, you feel really independent, really remote, it's just you and the car and your senses are alive because there's less visibility, your hearing and everything is more dramatic. It's a nice romantic touch that you don't get in Formula 1.“

As a ‘rookie’ Mark was required to prove his credentials to the organisers by completing a session in the simulator and putting in a ten lap stint at the Test Day. Some might say this was unnecessary for a man with his record; he summarises it as “good PR for the simulator”.

Despite the odd entry criteria the new-car mountain he had to climb, you can tell he’s an old hand at this. Webber is the calm eye in a storm of flapping journos, and even though he’s made the move to the less stressful climate of endurance racing he’s not lost the grit for which he’s famous.

But he does seem genuinely enthused, both to have his new prototype challenge and to be back at Le Mans: “The romance of the 24 is massive, it’s one of the most famous racing events in the world. OK, Formula 1 has the quickest cars but this category, with Porsche, Audi, Toyota, Nissan coming in… the coming years are going to be very exciting.”

Before we leave him to the forest of microphones jostling for position near his face he says something that leaves us feeling like, just maybe, he might know what he’s doing after all: “It feels like we’ve got a long way to go until the race but the time will go really quickly.”

“Our job is to make sure that we live up to the Porsche name, and maybe even give the 919 some of its own history.”

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsports journalist and 10-time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @speedchillsview

It was a long old wait, but after almost two months of WEC thumb-twiddling we’re finally nearing the fourth race of the World Endurance Championship, and what a race it promises to be. Because after jumping across America and Northern Europe for half a year, the fastest endurance series on the planet is once again returning to our fair island.

Silverstone_2011

There’s something a bit special about motor racing in good old Blighty. It’s not just the fact that it’s our home race, or that we have pretty much the best racing heritage in history. When drivers are asked which tracks are their favourites, Silverstone almost always shares the top three with history-soaked Monaco and the underwear-soilingly quick Suzuka.

There’s a reason for this that goes further than the neck breaking forces around Maggots and Becketts, because what really makes Silverstone is all of us. In five days’ time tens of thousands of bonkers British racing aficionados are going to congregate in a featureless WWII airbase, before watching multi-million pound motors fly round (or off) a ribbon of tarmac loosely based on a series of straight runways.

We’ll bring our banners and our wellies, we’ll push other peoples’ campervans out of the muddy bits of car parks, we’ll break out the picnic rugs and ponchos, all to get the privilege of seeing some of the world’s fastest cars duking it out in the rain for points in an eight race championship. Really, we’re a bit silly.

But that’s a given. So what has the British leg of the WEC got to offer us this year? Well, for starters we’ve got a pint-sized rerun of the Audi vs. Toyota battle that promised so much at Le Mans before delivering so little; it remains to be seen whether the Japanese outfit can bring a legitimate challenge to the German endurance behemoths.

Audi_R18_Winner

Their driver line-ups remain mostly unchanged, with the unstoppable Lotterer/Treluyer/Fassler in the #1 Audi e-tron and Wurz/Lapierre/Nakajima returning in the #7 Toyota Hybird. But the #2 Audi Ultra is a man down after the sad retirement of distinguished Dindo Capello, so ‘Mr. Le Mans’ Tom Kristensen will be attempting to rein in the brilliant yet increasingly erratic Allan McNish over 6 hours.

Most of the ‘best of the rest’ privateer LMP1 cars return from Le Mans, with the exception of Oak Racing and the embattled Pescarolo team. While Rebellion are fresh from a brilliant fourth place at the Circuit de la Sarthe, they can expect hot competition from the two British HPD Hondas of Strakka and JRM, whose drivers return hungry for a better result.

LMP2 again promises to be full of action, with a total of 15 teams signed up and ready to race. Ones to watch out for include the Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan piloted by the on-form team of Lahaye/Nicolet and Pla, fresh from victory in the ELMS race at Donington. The US Starworks Motorsports will be eager to recreate their hard-earned victory at the LM24, with Tom Kimber-Smith being replaced by French superstar Stephane Sarrazin.

If you’re still feeling patriotic after the Olympics LMP2 should be a good class to follow over the weekend, with the Brundles reprising their roles in the Greaves Zytek-Nissan, and our friend Nicolas Minassian joining Brit outfit JOTA along with local lads Sam Hancock and Simon Dolan.

Aston_Martin_Le_Mans

The GTE Pro lot will also be providing us with some good entertainment with a straight six-way battle for supremacy, featuring the massed forces of four Ferrari 458s. AF Corse have brought both of their prancing ponies along with LM24 winners Fisichella and Bruni at the helm of their lead #51 car, but they could be challenged by the always-competitive Lieb/Lietz Felbermayer-Proton 911 and the resurgent factory Vantage V8 of Aston Martin Racing.

The troublesome GTE Am class should hopefully provide more of a racing spectacle than just being involved in high profile crashes, with nine competitors fighting it out for the chequered flag. Among these are the two highly successful Corvettes of Larbre competition as well as the usual bevy of 911s and 458s, and one of the two factory-backed Amateur versions of the V8 Vantage being driven by friend-of-Speed-Chills Stuart Hall and his mentor Roald Goethe.

Also returning to the GTE Am class is fan-favourite Krohn Racing in their lime green Ferrari 458, whose sensational third place at Le Mans indicates that they could be the dark horse here at Silverstone.

It’s almost like Le Mans is coming home; a continuation of the exhausting exhilaration provided by the planet’s favourite race. We’ll be seeing all of the same gladiators and machines, but in an arena that’s only a couple of miles from our doorstep; and all with the amazing atmosphere that Britain always magically manages to conjure up.

Of course, the 6 hour time limit of this race will make sure that we’ll see some surprises, so don’t expect the results sheet to look too much like it did back at the 24 hours. But we’re sure to see the same amount of joy, disappointment and despair at Silverstone, with action aplenty and eye-watering speed to get us back into the endurance mood. It’ll be good, you have the Speed Chills guarantee.

You can’t stop the future, can you. With every leap in technology comes some kind of big debate, then inevitably progress marches on and we all forget what we were annoyed about. But what about when progress isn’t really so believable? How do we judge whether the next step in the evolution of something is worth our time and money?

Lola_Drayson_B1269EV

This is the problem we at Speed Chills have been having over the last couple of days, with the FIA’s announcement of their new electric racing series. It’s no secret that electric power is universally shunned by those who would call themselves ‘petrol heads’, i.e. most of us. It’s partly due to the rubbish e-cars we’ve been offered up until now, but a lot of the blame can be laid on the media, including Clarkson & Co’s relentless war against them.

But in recent years there’s been a boom in electricity-powered cars that might actually work in the real world. Nissan’s leaf might be expensive, and it might still be hamstrung by the recharging issue, but it’s a great showcase for a technology that we’re probably going to have to rely on in the future. We might be having to put up with the bleeding-heart environment rhetoric now but it was inevitable that we’d be seeing an electric foray into our sport sooner or later.

They’ve got some pretty influential backers, too. The legend that is Lord Paul Drayson has been roped in to act as ‘scientific adviser’, and he’s got some experience in building electric racers. That picture up above is of his Lola-Drayson B12/69EV which we’re told can do 0-60 in three seconds and top out at 200mph. It’s certainly a looker, but will it work? Actually, more importantly, will we want to watch it? We put the question to you guys on Facebook and Twitter, and here’s what we got back.

There was one thing that everybody pointed to; motor racing is a visceral experience. When you’re pressed up against the wall at 3 o’clock on Saturday at Le Mans and see the train of cars approaching from Karting Corner, the crowd noise reaches to the sky, you know that in a few seconds you’ll be treated to the insane experience of a 24 hours rolling start. The cars exit the Ford Chicane and scores of gas pedals become glued to the floor as the wall of noise thunders past and the vibrations shake from your feet up into your chest. There’s nothing else like it.

Now imagine how it would feel without the sound, without the rumble. Or better yet, imagine a field full of diesel powered Audis. Every time I watch a start at the 24 I actually couldn’t care less about the front three with their four rings and insane speed, it’s the petrol P1 cars and the GTs that are exciting. If you look up the straight to the throng of spectators as the Corvettes go past, you can almost see a Mexican wave as the fans shudder from the V8 barbarism.

Lola_Drayson_Nose_Closeup

It’s the same during the race; the only thing that makes the diesel cars exciting to watch is the fact that they’re going at hypersonic speeds. The 2011 Jaguar XKR GT2 car was absolutely atrocious and gave up within about five minutes, but we remember it because it sounded like Satan gargling a spitfire. If our sport ends up being about cars that whisper past then we will have lost one of the greatest things that racing gives us.

So the real litmus test here is whether an electric racing series can put us on a different drug altogether and make us momentarily forget what we’ve lost. The only way that it can do that, according to you guys, is to make sure that it a) creates great racing and b) does it because of the technology rather than because the FIA has mandated ridiculous rules; it’s that second part that should concern us the most.

Formula One might be the ‘fastest’ class of racing in the world, but the glory days of innovation and ridiculous new concepts are far, far gone. Nowadays the top dogs have been reduced to mandating overtaking aids and fiddling with tyre compounds in order to make races exciting; never again will we see a team trying to get away with six wheels or a car that acts like a giant hoover. Every time we see something new and clever (I’m thinking F-ducts and double diffusers) the other teams complain and new red tape is put in place. It’s boring.

If the FIA can avoid that with Formula E and end up treating us to some batshit crazy ideas based around, as Derek Gardner put it: ‘gaining the unfair advantage’ , then it could win us over. If some of those crazy ideas turn out to be brilliant and can translate over to our electric road cars then the series will have proved its worth.

On that hopeful note, they’ll have to avoid some serious pitfalls as well; notably everything that the population legitimately hates about electric cars. Lord Drayson let slip a nugget of information in the launch event that got us worried; and what made it worse was that he seemed to think it was a good idea. He said that due to the issues with recharging the cars we could be seeing drivers swapping entire cars during pit stops.

Lola_Drayson_on_track

Bear in mind two things here; the FIA are currently engaging in a massive economy drive, and electric cars are constantly hobbled by the public’s view on their range issues. As Antony and Nick pointed out on our Facebook page, we think Lord Drayson’s got his priorities upside down. What will the sceptical public think when something that is supposed to be promoting a technology falls into all of its stereotypes?

Two cars will be expensive and will put off the privateer teams that are the lifeblood of racing, while also upsetting the green lobbyists and undoing a lot of the careful economising that the FIA has been shoving in our faces for so long. With regards to the range, Antony put it expertly:

“What's the point of just proving the critics right in this way? Make a car that can last a race, for goodness sake...”

Quite. Either make sure they can last a race or make a way for the cars to ‘refuel’. This could be a great way to kickstart innovation in electric power; the FIA shouldn’t be wasting that opportunity.

That’s Speed Chills’ two cents, then. Make it competitive, make it interesting, and don’t just play into the hands of the naysayers. That way we can have a great addition to the motor racing stable, and one that could help secure a future for our sport. As long as they carefully avoid screwing it up we’ll all be happy; we might be protective of our pastime but we’re not idiots, we can appreciate the need for change and innovation. Just please don’t force the ecospeak down our throats.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sports journalist and 6-times Speed Chills veteran.

It’s been a hectic few days for sports car fans across the pond. Last week we heard the rumblings that something was up, and after a lot of speculation and dithering the dust has finally settled on the merger of the USA’s second and third favourite road racing series. “But why should I care?” I hear you ask.

Merger_Champagne

Well, it has the capacity to affect us quite a lot. 2012 has been a year of massive change in our sport, with sweeping reorganisation and restructuring that is changing the face of racing. First it was the start of the WEC, then the ELMS being saved and now the joining of the ALMS and Grand-Am; all aimed at sorting out the lack of cohesion in world motorsport.

It’s the same in America. There were justified fears that endurance racing would fade out of existence, with fans being split across the two series and the comparatively huge popularity of NASCAR. The new series won’t start until 2014 and it doesn’t even have a name yet, but it indicates a more solid future for sports cars.

So now it’s all been announced and the suits have finished drinking champagne in front of the cameras, all of the speculation has moved to what the new series will look like at the inaugural 2014 Daytona 24 race. With nine classes to choose from and a promise that both ALMS and Grand-Am will be well represented, it’s been a source of big debate across the internet.

ALMS President Scott Atherton has suggested that we’ll probably see the ALMS GT class in the mix, which isn’t entirely surprising due to its competitiveness and good record at Le Mans. This could leave the Grand-Am GT classes to be split between being up-specced to GT1 standards or forming a second tier of GT, in a similar way to the old GT1/GT2 classification at Le Mans.

Grand_Am_Krohn

A bit of an issue arises in the Prototype classes though, with Grand-Am’s top drawer ‘Daytona Prototypes’ currently comparable in pace to the ALMS GT cars. That, coupled with the fact that they are heavily specced to provide closer racing (a Speed Chills pet hate), means that the DPs will have to change significantly if they want to stay in the mix. The new series will have to appease the likes of Ford, Pontiac and Chevrolet who provide a lot of the chassis and big investment; they might not be happy with being in the second fastest class on the track.

This all means that we might be seeing a greater American influence at Le Mans. With the top two teams in the ALMS currently getting automatic invites to the 24 hours, it’s safe to assume that the ACO will try and take the opportunity to get more manufacturers on board. If the new US series stays in line with the new 2014 WEC regulations (as Don Panoz wants) we could see companies like Ford making a welcome return to the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Really it all depends on whether the new series embraces the rest of the world or does that annoying American thing and remains insular. With people like Dr. Panoz being (at least partly) in control we can hope that it will link up with the rest of the world; perhaps a return to the Daytona 24 for LM cars and more American teams gravitating towards the WEC.

Of course it’s mostly speculation at the moment but as the full merger draws closer we’ll be learning more about the future of the sport. It’s an exciting time as sports car racing goes through a transformation, all we have to do is hope that they don’t screw it up. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye on everything they announce, so for all the news stay tuned to Speed Chills.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sport journalist and 6-time Speed Chills veteran. Follow him on Twitter at @speedchillsview

It’s been quite a busy year for all of us fans of endurance. Back at the start of 2012 there’d been massive change in all quarters; Peugeot’s disappointing exit, boardroom machinations, financial problems dogging some legendary teams. But thanks to the reintroduction of some proper structure in our sport in the form of the World Endurance Championship, we saw a small glimpse of a possible return to the glory days for sports cars going the distance.

Audi_Toyota_Spa

Toyota’s triumphant return, massive, Batman inspired innovation in the Deltawing and a thrilling episode of day-long madness in the middle of France have reignited a bit of the old petrolhead passion, despite another disappointingly brilliant performance from the same old four-ringed Germans.

It got even better after Le Mans too. Toyota miraculously picked us up from where Peugeot left us, taking the victories at Sao Paolo, Fuji and Shanghai. LMP2 and the GTE classes stayed competitive for the entire season, and we kept receiving news of global players throwing their weight behind the resurgent series.

But that’s last year, it’s in the past, consigned to the archives. The World Endurance Championship has exceeded expectation in its inaugural year, so logic dictates that Le Mans 2013 will be even more exciting, competitive and adrenaline fuelled. Why? I’ll tell you.

Firstly, Le Mans 2012 was promising but lacked for any non-Audi based competition. It was exciting, yes; no Le Mans is ever dull, but there’s only so much noise a crowd can raise when the people vying for the lead are tucking into sauerkraut next to each other on the pitwall.

Enter Toyota. Okay, their Le Mans wasn’t that successful (except for some brief camera time when Ant Davidson got bored of gravity) but it gave us an inkling of what was possible. After the 24 hours they took that glimmer back to their Cologne base and turned it into a quick, reliable heavyweight contender.

Toyota_Hybrid_Blue

In fact, when you realise that the Japanese outfit only started competing in the WEC at Le Mans, you can see that they ended up neck and neck with Audi for victories. Skip ahead to the 22nd June next year and we could be seeing one of those brilliant, classic battles for the 24 hours.

Secondly: it’s alive! The World Endurance Championship, our great hope for a return to the glory days of Group C thrills, wasn’t just successful; it was brilliant. We know it was a walkover for Audi in the end, but in 2013 all of those little kinks will be ironed out.

We’ll have an actual competition at the front for starters, so a victory at Le Mans will mean twice as much for all of the teams. Add to this the fact that they’ve sorted out the dates of the races (in 2012 the first four races were spread over six months, the second four spread over two) and we’ve got a more balanced, easier to follow and more exciting sport.

Lastly; you lot. Every year we’re blown away by the atmosphere that you create, and 2013 is looking like it’s going to be even bigger and better than before. It’s the only way to truly experience the thrills of Le Mans; soaking in the atmosphere, seeing the cars fly by and inhaling the smells of petrol and rubber.

Speed Chills has got your VIP trip covered, with our usual combination of beer, music and racing split across two exclusive sites that guarantee you the best way to enjoy your time at the greatest race on earth. We take pride in being able to meet almost any VIP camping requirements, so let us know what you need and we’ll get down to making sure your Le Mans 2013 is as spectacular as ever.

Dunlop_Bridge_Crowd

But if you’re wondering how else you can satisfy your inner petrolhead, why not join us at the 6 Hours of Spa on the 3rd/4th May? We’ve secured the exclusive use of the famous Racing Hotel; a 5 minute walk from the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit (and with use of the very well-equipped bar...) it’s a fantastic location that’s steeped in motorsports history.

If you’re also into your MotoGP then you won’t want to miss the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France at the Le Mans Bugatti Circuit on the 19th May. Always one of the most popular Grands Prix on the MotoGP circuit, it’s dominated by first gear corners that encourage late breaking and heavy acceleration. It always makes for a great race, and you can take the hassle out of seeing it happen by letting us sort it all out for you!

Racing drivers are a rare breed, or so we’re lead to believe. Racing legends like Fangio, Moss and Senna aren’t treated like us mere mortals, they’re bestowed with godlike skills, sent to earth a few times a century to amaze us with their brilliance. It’s completely unfair.

Ayrton_Senna_champagne

But fear not! There are ways in which you too could be strapping into a multi-million pound carbon fibre contraption, risking your life to drive as fast as possible around a racing circuit. Take your pick of one of these three easy methods, grab yourself a crash helmet and make sure to buy us a beer in the Speed Chills Members’ Club at Le Mans (we won’t settle for the muck they sell at the circuit).

nissan_gt_academy

Method 1 - Be Really Good on the Playstation

Depending on how youthful you are (or feel) you might’ve grown up playing classic racing games such as Outrun, Micro Machines or Sega Rally Championship (in which we still hold the high score on the Portsmouth-Caen ferry if you think you’re good enough). Why not put those well-honed skills to task in something useful; beating thousands of other gamers to win the Nissan GT Academy Championship.

Grab yourself a Playstation, a steering wheel and a copy of Gran Turismo 5, play it religiously for a while (we’re talking spotty teenager levels of obsession here) and then sign up to Nissan’s programme of online tournaments. After a complicated selection process they choose twelve people from around the world to take part in the finals, competing in a gruelling series of real and virtual challenges to determine one eventual winner.

Here’s the best bit; that person gets to take part in the Dubai International 24 Hours, with a professional racing career that’s yours for the taking. Next year the first ever winner, Lucas Ordonez, will be driving for Greaves Motorsport in the ELMS and will take part in his third 24 Hours of Le Mans. In this year’s race he partnered the father-son team of Martin & Alex Brundle, finishing a respectable 8th in class, and was chosen to drive the Deltawing in the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. Not bad considering he started on the sofa.

oreca_arrive_and_drive

Method 2 - Have Loads of Money

A fairly obvious one this; there’s a whole GT class reserved for gentlemen drivers at the 24 hours and F1 is rife with average drivers backed by massive sponsorship deals (coughNarainKarthikeyancough). But there’s an even quicker and cheaper way that you might not be aware of; all you need is a racing license and a bit of spare cash.

Oreca Technology, of Le Mans winning chassis fame, are offering any aspiring race drivers the opportunity to buy their way into the European Le Mans Series next year for the measly sum of £150,000. You’ll be taken to each of the five rounds of the ELMS (Silverstone, Imola, Red Bull Ring, Hungaroring and Paul Ricard) where you’ll participate in the LMPC class; racing at just-sub-LMP2 speeds.

To top that, if you win the category then you get an invite to participate in the LM24 in 2014. Don’t worry if you don’t win though, you still get to take part in the traditional test day, and you can at least enjoy the race from the Speed Chills bar.

ayrton-senna-estoril-1979

Method 3 - Have Massive Racing Talent

Oh alright, maybe this is the most ‘legitimate’ way to foster your racing career but to our minds it’s also the most difficult, especially if you’re not 8 and don’t have access to the funds necessary to forge your way through karting. This is how most of the greats start off in the sport, wheel to tiny wheel with other budding race superstars while their pushy parents shout at them to go faster.

Then there’s the year-on-year drudgery of making your way through the various formulas, making difficult decisions about your career path and enduring endless worry about whether you’ll be fast enough to earn a life-changing seat at a mediocre racing team. Personally, we can’t be bothered.

Which will you choose then? Are you willing to spend months of your life superglued to a television, combating tunnel vision and RSI, or are you more tempted by simply digging 150 grand out of the back of the sofa and buying your way to fame? Or will you do it the proper way and work hard for year upon year to earn a slim chance of racing on the world’s stage?

But it does show that we all have a chance at being able to barrel round Le Mans in a top-spec prototype, however slim it might be. And hey, no worry if you don’t make it, just come and have a beer with us and watch it on the big screen, no effort required.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsports journalist and 6-time Speed Chills veteran.

Le Mans 24 hours and FIA WEC logos

When the ACO announced that there would be an extra pit box this year, and that they would fill it with a ‘car displaying new technologies’, everybody put money on it being another green car for petrol companies to put on their posters and wring eco-hands behind.

Deltawing_studio_full_length

Then they released a picture of it and everyone tore up their tickets, because it appeared that they’d let Batman fill the shiny new pit box with his stealth-fighter.

A few months further on and we have a much better idea of what the Deltawing is. Check out the official video; it looks like a rocket, and if the tests are to be believed it’ll go like one too.

But first the bad news: no matter how well it does, it can’t win. It won’t be classified; even the rubbish teams that only do one lap before the doors fall off will technically have beaten it, which seems a shame.

But it’s not really about how well it does in the race; it’s how well it stands up as a viable racing alternative. The innovative body shape might have been designed as an evolution for IndyCar racing, but its appearance at Le Mans fits the ‘prototype’ ethos extremely well, and allows for some great new engineering ideas.

It’s a real featherweight, coming in at 575kg, and packs 300bhp which they’ve squeezed from a tiny 4-cylinder, 1.6l Nissan power plant. This gives it a not-too-shabby 520bhp/tonne which isn’t to be sniffed at. In fact, that’s only slightly less than this year’s non-hybrid Audis.

Deltawing_studio_rear_shot

Then it gets madder. The rear tires are understandably pretty monstrous, but the front ones are so skinny that they seem to have been stolen from a bicycle. A source at Nissan admitted to me that he has no idea how it won’t just go straight on at the Hunaudieres chicanes.

That said, the second video is meant to allay people’s fears that it won’t turn, and it looks like it should be able to corner with the best of them. It’s also slippery in the air which will keep the fuel consumption down, and should please the environmentally-friendly bigwigs at Nissan.

One factor might be the hilariously named BLAT (Boundary Layer Adhesion Technology), which appears to work on the same wavelength as the ‘ground effect’ that the Lotus F1 team managed to utilise so well in the late 60s. This ‘upside-down-aeroplane-wing’ theory is usually heavily regulated in motorsports because it simply gives too much downforce, so expect the Deltawing to superglue itself to the tarmac.


It’s being run by Highcroft Racing who have had a fair amount of success in the American Le Mans Series, winning two championships since their inauguration in 2008. Their official line on the Deltawing is ‘Half the weight, half the horsepower, half the downforce - yet all the performance’. Having competed at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2010, they should have enough experience to get the most out of the Deltawing.

Designated driver for Le Mans this year is Marino Franchitti, younger brother of triple Indycar Series winner Dario, who describes it as a ‘novel science experiment’. 4-time Le Mans driver Michael Krumm from Germany will take the second spot, and Japanese Super GT winner Satoshi Motoyama will take the third.

Deltawing_snetterton_audi

Franchitti seems excited to be driving the Deltawing in as prestigious a race as the Le Mans 24 Hours, saying:

“You’re not in the confines of a rulebook so you can be a little more out there with your thinking, and we’re finding some very interesting solutions”.

That’s what makes the Deltawing so exciting. Racing has always been a hotbed for innovation; without it we wouldn’t have had disc brakes, aerodynamics or most of the bits in cars which stop people from dying. As one engineer in the video puts it, “It’s about guilt free, high performance motoring”. Let’s just hope it can stand up to 24 hours round La Sarthe.

UPDATE: At the recent 6 hours of Spa race we took time to gauge reaction from various teams about the Deltawing, and rumours are circulating that it’s not looking particularly fast or reliable. Stick with Speed Chills (on our blog, our Facebook page or our Twitter @SpeedChillsView) and we’ll update you as soon as we can find out more.

You know the situation. You’ve been to Le Mans for the last few years, you enjoy racing games on your Xbox, you’ve got a spare 458 Italia in the garage and a few million in the bank that you just don’t know what to do with.

458_italia

You might even have dreamed about sitting in the cockpit of your unused Ferrari , barrelling through the Porsche Curves and performing that surprise undertake on a flabbergasted Allan McNish.

But you’ve always been too daunted by the idea of setting out on the path of motorsports to do anything about it. Well fear not, Speed Chills is here to help you on your way! Just follow this simple guide and you too could be the next Henri Pescarolo, reaping racing glory in your own fleet of tricked-out motors.

It’s good that you’ve got that FIA-homologated 458 in the garage because that’s what we’ll be basing your racing car on. It goes pretty fast by itself of course, but we need to change a few things to make it both quicker and race legal.

First you’ve got to convince Ferrari to let you use their car. You’ll need an indication of ‘favourable opinion’ from them in order to race their car so it might help if you’ve got a proven track record in GT racing. Once you’ve got that, you can start making changes.

Krohn_458_in_pit

You’re not actually allowed to change that much though, especially not on the outside. You can’t change the overall look of the car except for adding diffusers and a massive spoiler on the back. You can replace moveable bodywork (bonnet, doors, bumpers etc.) with lighter versions, but only if they look exactly the same and aren’t made of carbon. Lowering it is essential, but only down to 55mm, and if your car regularly touches the floor you’re going to get black flagged.

Next you’ll want to rip out all of the bits that aren’t essential, so strip it down as much as you can. Throw out the passenger seat and any useless bits of trim, then put a safety cage in to protect yourself. You can take out the air con too, but you have to replace it with a system that can keep the car at less than 32 degrees, because that’s a nice cool temperature to drive in apparently.

Onto the bits that make it go. You can’t really alter the engine much, only carry out general tune-ups and swap some parts for similar ones, and the same goes for the gearbox. But the suspension, brake system and intercoolers are all OK to mess about with, so take this opportunity to squeeze some extra performance out of the car.

Krohn_458_interior

Obviously safety is an important part of all Le Mans cars, so make sure you put in an FIA approved drivers’ seat and check that you can reach all of the controls from it. Once that’s done, fit it with fire extinguisher and electrical cut-off systems that can be operated from both inside and outside the car, and mark them with a red E on a white circle and a red spark in a blue triangle respectively.

Like your traction control? The FIA don’t, so get rid of it. Same goes for ABS; we don’t want your time at La Sarthe to be too easy, do we? Also as it’s a GT car you definitely won’t be able to see out of the back, so fit a camera in the boot and link it to a screen on the dashboard that lets you see when there’s a hybrid about to fly past you.

Put on the number stickers and class position lights so your fans will know where you are, then glue some yellow plastic over the headlights to show that it’s a GT car at night. You’ll also want to find somewhere to keep it safe because you have to take off all of the anti-theft devices, thereby making Le Mans cars very easy to steal (Speed Chills does not condone theft of racing cars).

Krohn_458

Now for final checks; put it on the scales to make sure it weighs more than 1.245 tonnes and bolt a toolbox to the floor in case you have to fix it halfway round the track. Then all you have to do is test that it won’t get louder than a paltry 110db, though if you’ve heard the Corvettes going past at full speed you’ll wonder if everyone sticks to that rule.

And that’s it! One fully functioning, race-ready GT car just waiting for you to jump into and thrash. Now all you have to do is employ some brainbox engineers and PR people, get yourself a Bronze Super License and hire another two drivers to pilot your beast around Le Mans. Easy!

So there you have it. Our (not very) comprehensive guide to how to start your own race team as long as you already have a 458 and a few million pounds. Obviously there are a couple of other rules to consider, but it’s mainly technical rubbish so you can just gloss over those. We’ll make sure to get a picture of you on the top step of the podium with the sad faces of Audi executives all around you. Just remember where all that help came from, and come along to our bar afterwards for a cold post-victory pint. You’re buying.

(Krohn racing pictures courtesy of Krohn Racing and Regis Lefebure)

On an otherwise thrilling Test Day, and amidst a lot of fanfare and handshaking, we got to see the unveiling of the car that will occupy next year’s 56th pit box. GreenGT, who wanted to be there this year but were beaten by the slightly-too-different Deltawing, showed us their brand new ‘H2’ prototype. There it is on the left.

GreenGT_H2

It’s powered by electricity generated by hydrogen fuel cells, and the fact that they’ve used this relatively new technology to power a prototype racing car should do wonders for Le Mans’ green credentials. Power-wise it generates 400kw; my kettle is rated at 2.2kw which gives the H2 a glorious 180 kettle power. In reality this translates to about 540hp which is a healthy amount of oomph.

But there’s a reason I started with the good bits, and as soon as you saw the picture of it I think you may have figured out where this article is going.

Take a moment to think of all of the most classic cars you can think of. I’m thinking Bugattis, Ferraris and Jaguars. The GT40, the 917, the 956. All of these are amazing cars not only because they were stupidly quick and driven by the legends of the sportscar scene, but because they were sensational to the eye.

GreenGT_H2_Concept_Image

Obviously not every classic is an instant looker, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the point is a great looking or striking car will always be remembered before a boring or ugly one. You can make an exception for those machines that are so outstandingly ugly that they haunt you at night, but thankfully they come around relatively rarely.

And then we come to the H2. Contrary to my previous descriptions on Facebook and Twitter, I now don’t think it’s the ugliest car ever made. It’s definitely grotesque, with its bizarre moustache wing and gaping frogmouth on the top, but after having looked at in disgust for a few days I’ve now come to a different conclusion; it’s just a bit rubbish looking, and that’s far worse.

If a car is supposed to engage the public, it has to interest them. Take the Deltawing; it looks amazing, if not necessarily beautiful, and (most of) the general public have fallen in love with its strange and exciting newness. Its mandate was to display new technologies, and it really looks like it’s doing the job.

Deltawing_studio_full_length

The GreenGT just doesn’t. The 56th pit box doesn’t have as many technical regulations as the classified entries, so they could have gone wild with their design and given us something to get really excited about. They haven’t, they’ve given us a hunchbacked slice of averageness with facial hair.

Obviously a certain amount of the design will be form following function; the massive gaping hole behind the driver is there to cool the mass of fuel cells, for example. There’s also the chance that after a year of development it will look better; maybe they’ll give it an aerodynamic beard to match. But fans are fickle, and unless changes are made or it wows us with blistering speed or an exciting engine whine, it risks being lost in the records as a car that was clever but boring.

The technology is absolutely amazing, there’s no doubt about that. GreenGT have put together a proper electric racer, and the H2 will be a brilliant showcase for what we might be seeing on the cars of the future. But the Deltawing could soon be joining a prestigious list of bizarre cars, sitting next to classics like the Brabham fan Car or the Tyrrell six-wheeler. Will anyone remember the GreenGT H2 in 20 years? I don’t think so.

If you completely disagree with me, or reckon that I’ve hit the nail on the head, sound off in the comments below!

It’s that time of the year again! The cars have been checked, the drivers have been briefed, and today marks the start of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Marquee_resized

We’ve been busy as well, making sure everything’s ready to go for you guys. This year we’ve been upgrading your Le Mans weekend; we’ve rejigged the layout of the marquee so you don’t have to walk through the band to get to the bar, and we’ve uprated the sound and lighting systems with better speakers and laser lights.

This afternoon will see an LM24 Free Practice session between 4 and 8, before the Aston Martin Festival has its own practice between 8.30 and 9.30. Finally tonight we’ll see the first of the three LM24 qualifying sessions, between 10 o’clock and midnight.

If you’re coming today, we’ll have Quali on in the marquee but if the weather’s good it’ll be worth heading on up to the inside of the Porsche Curves for a couple of hours to get your first glimpse of the cars. If you’re not coming ‘til later in the week we’ll be covering the sessions on the website as well as on Twitter (follow @SpeedChillsView) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/speedchills) with reports, pictures and videos.

After two days, six grueling hours at full speed and plenty of action, the grid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2012 has finally been decided; it’s a predictable Audi pole, but with a few surprises thrown in.

Audi_stand_resized

Andre Lotterer built on last year’s victory by putting in an absolutely storming lap at the start of the third qualifying session; a time of 3:23.787 which was pretty much unbeatable. But while the sister R18 Ultra of Dumas, Duval and Gene managed to make it into second, Anthony Davidson was busy spoiling Audi’s ideal start to the weekend.

In a thrilling final 15 minutes, Toyota brought the Brit in and gave him a brand new set of slicks, which he then used to put in a 3:24.847; a monumental effort for an otherwise struggling team. Tom Kristensen piloted the other Audi hybrid to fourth, while Kazuki Nakajima also put in a great lap late on to steal 5th from the other Ultra of Bonanomi, Jarvis and Rockenfeller.

In the unofficial privateer class Danny Watts led the all-British Strakka Racing to a brilliant pole which broke the 3m30 barrier, but the car ended the session with front wing damage after Seiji Ara’s Pescarolo Dome drove into it at the Porsche Curves. When we popped into their garage halfway through the last qualifying session they told us that they were very happy with their performance, and that they weren’t particularly worried about a challenge from one of the Rebellions. When asked if they thought the privateers should have their own recognized class at LM24, one of their engineers gave a resigned shrug and said “It’s Le Mans”.

Strakka_qualy

The ADR-Delta Oreca Nissan stole pole for the P2s, with Olivier Pla driving the wheels off his Oak Racing Morgan Judd to claim second, and the #26 Signatech Nissan coming in third. The Greaves Zytek Nissan, driven by the Brundles and Lucas Ordonez, ended up about half way up the class in 11th, 24th on the grid.

GTE Pro lived up to its promise, with three different manufacturers in the top three positions separated by just half a second; the Luxury 458 on pole with the Vantage V8 second and works Corvette third. In the GTE Am class the Flying Lizard #79 beat the other Aston Martin by more than a second, followed by the second Luxury 458. An Aston Martin mechanic said:

“We’re relieved to see that everybody wasn’t sandbagging when we were heading the timing sheets in free practice, we’re pretty happy with how we’ve done”.

Deltawing_stand_resized

Speed Chills’ favourite Krohn Racing in the awesome looking green 458 seemed to be having a troubled qualifying, but we dropped by and found out what they were doing to make sure their race goes as well as possible :

“We’re playing the long game, we’re just going to put in lap after lap after lap and hope that our reliability jumps us ahead of the drop outs”

Although the Deltawing won’t be classified in the race it did manage to grab the 29th spot on the grid with a 3:42.6, beating a number of the P2 cars in the process. It also managed to use very few sets of front tires, so it looks good for some long stints during the race.

The grid promises a great race; the chequered flag for the Le Mans 24 Hours drops in just over a day’s time.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsport journalist and 5-time Speed Chills veteran.

The first thing that strikes me as I push through the turnstiles outside the Circuit de la Sarthe is how different the atmosphere is. The sideshows and funfair rides are gone, there’s no pop music being blared out of hidden speakers, nothing to suggest that the greatest motor race in the world ripped through here like a tornado only three weeks ago.

There’s a lot more breathing space; the people milling around are more likely to have an auction brochure in their hand than a beer. I round the back of one of the stands, go through the tunnel under the track and emerge in the paddock, surrounded on all sides by racing fans laden with cameras and quietly discussing the intricacies of the sport.

Bugatti_front_shot_resized

Making my way down the road, past stalls dedicated to flogging their ridiculously priced leather wares, I arrive at the first of the ‘grid’ paddocks; Grid 1: 1923 – 1939. Arrayed in front of me are all of the oldest cars in attendance, stretching right back to the first ever running of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Bugattis in their blue livery, Bentleys in green, some beautiful old silver BMWs. Venerable and noble things, they sit in their garages looking as good now as they did then; lovingly polished and cared for, ready to go racing once again.

Everything about them was functional and mechanical, free from cables and sensors and LED lights. There are no jagged angles of carbon fibre; every panel hand beaten by a craftsman from generations ago. There’s nothing sanitized or commercial here, just the bare bones of racing and the smell of oil, leather and rubber rising in the dust. Every now and then you can hear a distant roar as an engine is fired up, high pitched whines and throaty rumbles.

On through the other paddocks, dodging mechanics on classic scooters and the obligatory French showers, ranging past 60 years of racing legend. Cars spanning the ages, zippy little GTs sitting next to multi-million pound prototypes, legendary names as well as tiny teams that built their cars in sheds. You can see the creep of sponsors into the sport, some of which are almost as iconic as the cars. Staff are handing out ear plugs, essential if you want to keep your ear drums intact when you’re standing feet from an uncovered engine being throttled.

Stroll further along, find a place to watch the races. Leaning on the concrete barrier and wishing that the catch fence wasn’t getting in the way as Jaguars, Ferraris and Porsches fly past up the home straight. It’s surprising just how quick they’re all going considering they’re driving such expensive and unique cars; but I see a Morgan sideways smoking its wheels, a Cobra losing it at the first corner, ending up inches away from the wall and a very expensive repair bill. The racing spirit is here in droves, every driver lapping up the opportunity to rag their beloved car round Le Mans.

Classic Corvette

I wander over to Dunlop Chicane, over the Dunlop Bridge and take refuge from another torrential downpour in the Dunlop Grandstand. I see the start of Round One, Grid 6, cars from the 70s that still look futuristic. The wet track made for slippery going, with Porsches slipping and sliding, a BMW CSL pirouetting and missing following cars by inches.

As darkness falls I head back down to the exterior grandstands as the early 50s cars rumble past. Most of these are open-topped so you can see the stony concentration in the eyes of the drivers, see them raise a hand to show their mechanics that they've seen the pit board. Wafts of hot petrol reach you as you watch the pits opposite; drivers coming in with worried faces, diving into and out of cars before their mechanics push them off.

Carry on to the Ford Chicane as Grid 3 set off; watching Listers battle with Lotus 15s all the way through the corners and up the pit straight. The next time they come around you see how fragile some of these racers are; seven straight into the pits, and a Ferrari 250 GT followed by plumes of white smoke, huge bangs and broken pieces of engine.

Retro_pic_resized

Some particularly insistent fans scale some catch fencing to my right, managing to grab a couple of shaky snaps before Marshal whistles blast and the track Gendarmes swoop down on them. When the chequered flag is waved and everyone’s back in the pits, there’s a slow procession of various stricken classics being towed back from further round the track; an MG A, an AC Ace, an Austin Healey. Every one that crawls past is greeted by glowing applause and cheers; the disappointed drivers gamely wave in acknowledgement.

Later at night I venture over to the Porsche Curves where they emerge out of the dark and into the bright lights round a corner that, for many of them, wasn’t here when they raced. It makes for a stark contrast; the multicoloured rumble strips and safety features of the modern track not really fitting in with the cars on show as they head off into the distance.

The 24 Hours is all about massive speed, being on the edge and the extravaganza of it all, with superstar drivers piloting technical marvels, but the Classic isn’t really bothered with all of that. It’s about tens of thousands of people getting together and remembering the great and good of the sport, and it creates a sense of quiet appreciation amid the roaring of engines. It’s something that you can’t really find anywhere else, with the combination of histories from both the cars and the track combining to make something uniquely exciting, uniquely Le Mans, and uniquely Classic.

We’ve been waiting for a long time for the return of the WEC. We twiddled our thumbs for months, took our racing fix where we could and religiously crossed off the days on the calendar, but the world’s premier endurance circus will soon be among us once again. And it’s happening just down the road.

Toyota Hybrid Le Mans

There’s something a bit special about motor racing in good old Blighty. It’s not just the fact that it’s our home race, or that we have pretty much the best racing heritage in history.

Silverstone is one reason; when drivers are asked which tracks are their favourites, the Northamptonshire circuit always shares the top three with history-soaked Monaco and the underwear-soilingly quick Suzuka.

But there’s another reason that goes further than the neck breaking forces around Maggots and Becketts; what really makes Silverstone is all of us. In the coming days tens of thousands of bonkers British racing aficionados are going to congregate in a featureless WWII airbase, before watching multi-million pound motors fly round (or off) a ribbon of tarmac loosely based on a series of straight runways.

We’ll bring our banners and our wellies, we’ll push other peoples’ campervans out of the muddy bits of car parks, we’ll break out the picnic rugs and ponchos, all to get the privilege of seeing some of the world’s fastest cars duking it out in the rain for points in an eight race championship. Really, we’re a bit silly.

But that’s a given. And what makes it even better in 2013 is that we’re hosting the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship; the first of eight races that will determine who on the planet is the best at making invincible hyper-racers.

So what has the British debut of the WEC got to offer us? Well, for starters we’ve got the first episode of the soap opera that will be Audi vs. Toyota; a battle that seemed so unfair at Le Mans last year but proved to be anything but in the months afterward.

Aston Martin Le Mans

This year though, the fight will be much fairer. It’s 2 on 2 at Silverstone; the #1 and #2 Audis of Lotterer/Treluyer/Fassler and Kristensen/McNish/Duval squaring off against Wurz/Lapierre and Davidson/Buemi/Sarrazin in the #7 and #8 Toyotas.

If last year’s record stands we’ll be seeing a monumental fight, full of all the mind bending speed and whisper quiet flybys that we’ve come to expect from these two racing behemoths and their victory hungry drivers.

The rest of the top drawer LMP1 class has been streamlined this year with the exit of Pescarolo, Oak and JRM. But the remaining two teams promise to give us a good spectacle; the British Strakka and Swiss Rebellion teams will be duking it out for the honour of best privateer, and perhaps crossing fingers for a fortuitous trip to the overall podium.

LMP2 again promises to be full of action, with ten teams signed up and ready to race. Ones to watch out for include Oak Racing, Delta ADR and G-Drive, all of whom impressed at the recent Paul Ricard test. With US outfit Starworks out of the running due to funding issues, the title could be anyone’s.

The GTE Pro lot will also be providing us with some good entertainment, with a straight six-way battle for supremacy featuring the massed forces of Ferrari, Porsche and Aston.

AF Corse have brought both of their prancing ponies along (with one Kamui Kobayashi, of banzai overtaking fame, at one of the wheels), while the return of the Porsche factory team to top flight endurance promises to provide spectacular efficiency. But it’s the home team Aston Martins that have the most to gain from victory at Silverstone; not only a good start to the season but adoration from a hugely supportive crowd.

strakka rear flag

GTE Am won’t be disappointing either, with eight competitors fighting it out for the chequered flag. Three Ferraris, two 911s, two Astons and a ‘Vette will be on the grid on Sunday, all vying for the title of fastest gentleman racer.

It’s almost like Le Mans is coming home; a continuation of the exhausting exhilaration provided by the planet’s favourite race. We’ll be seeing all of the same gladiators and machines, but in an arena that’s only a couple of miles from our doorstep; and all with the amazing atmosphere that Britain always magically manages to conjure up.

When the dust settles on Sunday we’ll finally have a clear picture of how everybody stands, but no matter how quick, slow or smashed up anybody is we’re sure to see the same amount of joy, disappointment and despair at Silverstone, with action aplenty and eye-watering speed to get us back into the endurance mood. The wait is almost over, and the WEC is about to make its welcome return. It’s good to be back.

Make sure to follow all the goings on at Silverstone by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter at @SpeedChillsView

With the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours just days away excitement has reached a fever pitch; very soon we’ll be eagerly watching the greatest race in the world play out in front of us, and there are only two teams who’ll likely be in contention. The big question is who, after a whole day’s worth of frantic action will emerge, grimy and bug splattered, as the winner?

McNish portrait

Allan McNish has just got off the phone to the Glasgow Sunday Post, he says it’ll keep his mum happy. It’s a tribute to his professionalism that even during the Le Mans firestorm of PR appearances and media calls he’s still eager to chat away, answering questions from the ultra-technical to the ultra-stupid without missing a beat; somebody has already asked him how they fit all three drivers in the car at the same time... right.

He might be a familiar face with his Formula 1 coverage and instantly recognisable Scottish drawl but foremost he’s a world class racing driver, and his Audi R18 E-tron Quattro is the car that everybody wants to be in. Audi have won 11 of the last 13 Le Mans 24 Hours, were victorious in the 2012 World Endurance Championship and have already made their mark on the 2013 season with a 100% success rate.

They’ve got three cars this year; the #1 double-winning team of Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer, the #2 of McNish, Duval and ‘Mr Le Mans’ Tom Kristensen and the #3 of Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gene and Oli Jarvis. In the test day McNish’s car, driven by Frenchman Duval, was quickest by a margin of some five seconds from the nearest non-Audi competitor; as unreliable as the test day is as an indicator of true performance that’s significant. McNish describes the car as “stunning” and it’s not PR speaking: he sounds as though he’s in awe of what the team have offered up for this year.

But despite all of the history, experience and current performance he remains pragmatic about his chances for this year: “I think it would be completely stupid of me to tell you that Audi isn't the one to beat going to Le Mans, when you look at the history that would be insane. But that's not to say that it's a given that Audi will win when they get to Le Mans; we won in 2008 and then in 2009 Peugeot stepped up and showed us the way to go, so it can happen without question.”

That Peugeot vs. Audi battle entertained us for five years (remember that 13 second gap?) but when the French manufacturer made a surprise withdrawal in 2012 it was left up to somebody else to challenge the German endurance behemoths. Luckily Toyota was up to the challenge, and though the Japanese outfit were roundly beaten at Le Mans they managed wins in three rounds of the World Endurance Championship and looked as though they could be a real force this year.

But so far the challenge hasn’t really materialised. They were roundly thrashed at Silverstone and plagued by hybrid system reliability at Spa, and we’ve already mentioned the five second gap at test day. But McNish suspects that they haven’t shown their hand:

“I know for a fact, an absolute fact, that that wasn't all they could do. It can go quicker than that, they had traffic, they weren't necessarily set up. Loic had a really clean run with new tires and everything else so I don't think the gap is anywhere near what it looked like on paper”.

“After the weekend I haven't got a clue. All the performance figures that we have suggest that they should be right there but I really don't know; in Spa we had a quicker car in qualifying and then, come the race, they were more competitive. I would say that if they got into a race situation then I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be right up there.”

McNish Spa car shot

There’s something else that’s been thrown into the mix since Spa as well. The latest round of BoPs (regulation changes aimed at balancing performance) gave Toyota an extra five litres in their fuel tanks; a big difference when you’re filling up more than 30 times over the course of the race. Considering that Toyota were very much in contention before their issues at Spa this has the potential to tip the balance in their favour, and McNish knows it:

“I don't think we'll actually know how many laps they're going to do until we actually get into the race itself. Now, does it worry me... yes it does because you don't have to be a mathematician to work out that if they go one lap longer then we need to be 0.5, 0.6 quicker per lap to balance it out. If they do two laps longer which is very possible then we need to be over a second faster to balance it out and that's our job through the course of the race. I think having an effect in Le Mans is one thing but I think it'll have a huge effect in the WEC races.”

But it’s not just Toyota that could get in the way of Audi’s twelfth win. All together they and the Toyotas total five out of the 56 cars that will roar past the start/finish line at 3 o’clock next Saturday, and as the fastest cars of all they’ll be the ones doing the majority of the overtaking.

Eight passes on every lap over the course of a whole day is a lot of hard work. The R18 is four metres long, and as McNish points out that means that once somebody’s disappeared past your side window there’s still a long way to go; these kinds of visibility issues are being addressed in next year’s rules but for now they’re having to deal with it.

The speed difference is another factor: “We now do a lot more of our overtaking in corners as opposed to the straights purely because the speed difference is bigger in the corners. But once we've committed, and that could be 50 metres behind them, we can’t just get out of it. You can't just change direction at 170 mph through the Porsche Curves.”

But it’s good to see that the biggest problem is the possibility of losing pace: “If we sit behind a GT car through the Porsche Curves we lose five seconds, if you do that twice you lose ten seconds, if you do it three times you've lost the race. Ultimately it's gonna be won or lost by seconds so you can't afford to do it.”

It’s a real quirk of Le Mans that after 24 hours there can be mere seconds between a brilliant win and a hard fought loss. There have been some close ones in the past (Jacky Ickx won by 120 metres in 1969) so it stands to reason that of all the headaches that the engineers have to deal with, reliability is one of the biggest. It’s here that McNish believes Audi are, perhaps, strongest:

“Audi's reliability and serviceability has been one of the reasons for the continued success. The faster the race gets, the harder it gets, the more competition you've got, the less there is between first and second. Therefore if you're doing an average of 140 mph and somebody else has got to make one pit stop for one minute then that's a lot of distance you've covered. Chances are that you will have a problem through Le Mans, just pure law of averages suggests that, and if you do it's how quickly you repair it and how quickly you come back from it that matters.”

But the overriding sense is that there’s quiet confidence beneath the practical layers of ifs and buts. There’s a reason he’s known as the ‘Scottish Terrier’, a name he admittedly doesn’t mind (apparently he’s been called a lot worse in drivers’ briefings and parc ferme), and he sees the similarities with the short, shaggy haired that keeps on yapping and biting at heels. The reality is that Audi’s history, expertise and stellar driver line up put them in strong contention for this year’s vingt-quatre heures, and they all know it:

“I don't think pure speed has got the defining meaning whether you're gonna win or lose round here, there are so many other things that can kick you up the backside if you think that way. It's such a weird track and it's a high speed circuit so it requires a lot of confidence, and if you come to a race with the quickest car, generally it gives you an element of belief that the race is gonna go your way.”

That element of belief will be filtering through the Audi garages at Le Mans. It’s one of their biggest assets but could also conceivably be their one weakness, and only 24 hours around the Circuit de Sarthe will tell us which it’s going to be.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sport journalist and 6-time Speed Chills veteran. Follow him at @SpeedChillsView

This year’s WEC was supposed to be a last hurrah. With 2014 bringing huge rule changes and the promise of Porsche’s return to prototypes, our loyalties were split between the season ahead of us and the one that was due to step it up a level in 12 months time.

8653416503 e40a3b11eb b

That spectre followed us around throughout the year, but in almost every way the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship proved to be just as exciting as we had hoped. The race to race action kept us hooked on the championship tables while in the background teams worked furiously to try and gain an edge on the opposition.

Strangely, if not unpredictably, it wasn’t the top dogs that provided the biggest draw. While they certainly looked the part as they shot past at supersonic speeds, it wasn’t until the twilight hours of the season that the tantalising Audi vs. Toyota battle really came alive. Indeed, it was only at the final race in Bahrain that the Japanese team showed that they could win races on pure merit.

The German endurance behemoths were just better at it from the start. Toyota were good, but Audi were more reliable, faster on race day and better at dealing with the ins and outs of long distance. In short they were the Audi that we all expected to turn up; punctual, efficient and dominant. A championship for Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval and now-retired Allan McNish in the #2 was all but assured from half way through the season.

Rebellion made a game attempt to challenge the leaders but were never likely to cause too much trouble, while Strakka never really got off the starting blocks. Meanwhile the rest of the grid were throwing great big handfuls of twists and turns in our direction. We turned up to the final race with seven titles still to be decided, and many of those had the forerunners separated by stick-thin margins.

9096188274 7ee7ff8202 b

The GTE Pro war was especially good at flexing its muscles in front of the camera, with Porsche’s final-moments Le Mans win leaving Aston and AF Corse to scrap desperately over points on race weekends.

The WEC benefitted from F1’s obsession with profit as both Bruno Senna and Kamui Kobayashi made their way into sportcars and brought a legion of fans with them. With household names both on and in the cars GTE Pro stood out easily, and the epic narrative of comeback, error and tragedy raced along right until the final flag.

AF Corse took the overall honours in the end with a fabulously understated season-long performance from Gimi Bruni. I remember seeing him sitting in his 458 on the grid in Bahrain, staring straight ahead with a determined look on his face and oblivious to my weak efforts at being a paparazzo. A number of drivers deserved to win the Pro title, but Bruni was most deserving of all.

Aston Martin’s centenary year didn’t go quite as planned, with a bevy of technical errors and lost, juicy opportunities leaving them inches from the trophies at the end. As for their assault on Le Mans, Chris Welch summed it up in our Facebook poll: “The art car was all over the back of the new Porsche 911 RSR. With an hour and twenty to go and a race long battle coming down to the wire, the heavens opened and they vanished in the spray! I was chewing my hands off”.

It was a brilliant return to La Sarthe for the German endurance legends, but a bitter disappointment for the British team. They were in better spirits at the Fuji pool party though, with their cardboard Gulf Racing fish and Senna’s one-man-mexican-wave-off with a sodden Japanese fan being particularly memorable (thanks to @acerace_99 on Twitter for that one).

Thiriet LMP2

P2 was another highlight too, if you could follow it. It’s a difficult one to get into but it was so worth it this year, as Oak (not the art car, obvs.), Pecom and G-Drive lit up a hugely competitive championship. That said, it would have been sewn up much earlier had the two black and pink Oaks not crashed into each other in Austin.

To everyone except the experienced observer the highly balanced second prototype class is still a bit confusing. It’s like going to a brilliant football game where you don’t know either of the teams; easy to appreciate the sport but difficult to get invested in the action when you don’t recognise separate cars or competitors.

It’s a shame because with the exciting racing and emerging talent on offer (props to Greaves for running astonishing newbies Jann Mardenborough and Wolgang Reip from Nissan GT Academy) P2 really is a superb class. Perhaps it’s us media types’ fault for not giving it enough coverage; if so we must try better in 2014.

IMG 8736

The gentlemen drivers of GTE Am had a close time of it too, with late season wins for the #96 AMR of Stuart Hall and Jamie Campbell-Walter seeing them win the title by a single point while 8 Star were crowned the team champions.

Impressive showings came from the Am AF Corse and IMSA Performance Matmut in their Porsche (which looked stunning at every race), but on performance alone it should have been a dominant season for the all Danish Aston #95. However it wasn’t to be, as the awful loss of Allan Simonsen at Le Mans hit them understandably hard and a catalogue of mechanical failures had them retiring again and again from leading positions.

Simonsen’s death in the early stages of the 24 Hours shocked the racing world. It reminded us that while racing is safety obsessed for a reason there’s still a risk to life for the people behind the wheel; memories of the blank, drawn faces in the Aston garages and the echoing quiet around the track will always remind me of that.

The response from Simonsen’s family and Aston Martin was absolutely perfect; Aston asked whether they should carry on and the Dane’s nearest and dearest said that of course they should; it was what Allan would have wanted and expected. It was times like this that showed that at its heart motorsport is about people doing what they love doing; driving fast in magic machines.

The WEC showed what it could do in 2013, and with next year bringing Porsche and those rule changes there’s a lot to be excited about. Audi and Toyota will be desperate to show these old pretenders that history counts for nothing in endurance, while GT teams will be working furiously to improve their supercars for that unfair advantage.

It might only be two years old, but the FIA World Endurance Championship is already an established great in the racing series pantheon. 2013 proved that the series continues to grow, and 2014 can only continue that trend. Bring on the new regs, bring on Porsche and bring on another year of beer at the world’s best endurance events; if it’s anything like the one we’ve just experienced then it’s sure to be a thriller.

Simon Dolan and his JOTA team have had a mixed bag of results over the last few weeks. At the Silverstone round of the ELMS their race was cut short by a massive shunt into a concrete barrier with a quarter of the race to go, while a hard-fought second at the WEC 6 Hours of Spa two weeks later came despite a heart in mouth moment at the top of the famous Eau Rouge.

JOTA Spa Eau Rouge

“First off you think: ‘where's the wall?’” says Dolan now suited, booted and debriefed about an hour after the spin which could have ended in disaster, “When you know there's not a wall, you think about whether you can keep it in a straight line, your foot’s through the floor on the brake. Then you see all the cars coming up the hill, and you think 'Oh, this is going to be no good'”

“Then the marshals are all flapping about, obviously they’re just making sure you’re safe and they do a great job but they’ve been sitting around for hours and suddenly they’ve got to jump into action, it’s all pretty hectic.”

“You get it started, get back to the garage to check the wheels aren’t going to fall off, and then they put you straight back in the car with some new tyres.”

Then comes the hard part; he has to barrel through Eau Rouge and over the blind crest of Raidillon, foot flat to the floor, and this time do it right; “The corner went from being almost nothing to being '****, this really is scary again.

“Obviously the guys in the garage can see all the telemetry and I'm coming round turn one saying to myself 'I can't lift, I can't lift, I can't lift’ because I know they'll be looking. So I kept my foot down and I've never been so relieved to get to the top of it. They wouldn't actually have said anything but I would have known.”

It helps to have the balls to go straight out and do it again. His Twitter bio reads thus: ‘One of the UK's leading entrepreneurs, Le Mans race driver, best selling author and one time champion kickboxer’. When SCV is ushered into the JOTA team’s motorhome in the paddock at Spa, we make sure not to start either a fight or a bidding war.

We’re here because of an exchange on Twitter a few days earlier in which we and Dolan discussed just how safe it was to crash head first into a concrete barrier on Silverstone’s Hangar Straight. If you’ve not seen it yet, give it a quick YouTube. We’ll wait.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= dBaB39jKwdA

It looks distinctly catastrophic and, with the end result at least, not that dissimilar to Mike Rockenfeller’s spectacular shunt at Le Mans in 2011. Spearing across the track at high speed, hitting the barrier and exploding in a cloud of carbon fibre is something no driver really wants to do.

“I don't think he did it on purpose,” says Dolan, referring to the Ferrari driver who he says gave him no choice but to go onto the grass, “If I believed that someone would do that then I wouldn't go racing. So OK he didn’t see me, but I ended up in the wall and out of the race, so I’m not sure if ‘I didn’t see him’ is really a valid excuse.”

“If I'd been in a GT car and had that crash then I'd have had broken legs. The fact that we're in a prototype with its tough tub really helped, but it's still written the whole thing off and it's still 160 grand's worth of damage.”

So how to mitigate it? Safety is a word heavy with connotations; fun spoiling, hi-vis jackets, ‘just in case’, but it also has to be a priority. Last year was something of a tragic landmark for sports car fans, with accidents claiming the lives of Allan Simonsen, Sean Edwards and Andrea Mamé among others.

Simon Dolan

Dolan is quite aware of the danger; he brings it up before we do, and it’s clear that he’s given it some thought: “The GT cars are probably as safe as they can be but I’d never get in one again. The prototypes are built in such a way that you can take a bloody big hit and come out with nothing worse than a concussion and a few cuts and bruises.”

And that’s all that he got at Silverstone. He may have been extracted from the remains of the car but never lost consciousness and was discharged from the medical centre after a quick check up. The community’s collective sigh of relief when the news came through was a palpable one; after the dark times of 2013 we’re all a bit more sensitive to these kinds of things.

“I think that all three were freak accidents last year and it’s just a coincidence that they all happened in one go. You have to be a bit philosophical about it and realise that although racing’s a relatively safe thing to do, accidents happen.”

“You can have something happen to you if you're walking home or if you go horse riding or cycling. With Michael (Schumacher) for example, he races for all those years, has all those accidents, even has a car flying inches from his head in his last race. Then he goes skiing with his wife and kids and that happens.”

“It's all about mitigating the danger as best you can, against anything you can do something about.”

To the meat of his own experience then. Simon believes that there’s a clear way to ‘mitigate the danger’ in the case of his own accident at Silverstone, and it comes complete with some convincing numbers:

“At Paul Ricard (for the pre-season ELMS test) we were doing 274kph at the end of the straight and the Ferraris were up to 287kph. The problem is that although we're quicker around the lap, the only way of getting past is to do them through the corners. It's OK if you can trust the person in front, but if you have somebody who's not very experienced or not very good, or hasn't seen you, then they might turn in on you.”

JOTA Spa Rivage

“If I'd had enough grunt to get past him then I’d have just blasted through on the straight rather than having to come round the side out of the corner. I had to do it lots of times in the race, because if you hesitate in getting past every time then you're soon going to be twenty seconds back down the road.”

“Yes, you have to accept that there are going to be accidents, but to make you have to fight with a class that you've got nothing to do with seems ludicrous. The P1 cars go past us like we're not even there, so there must be a happy medium that's less than the top speed of the P1 cars but is enough get past the GTs on the straights.”

Balancing the performance of these very different kinds of cars is a fine art, but not a complete one. It will never be completely right, especially when ultra competitive teams spot an opportunity to get one over their rivals, but the organisers do a largely excellent job.

However no matter how even you make the racing, as Dolan says, there will still be accidents, and these can carry a high cost both financially and personally. Before we leave him to his qualifying preparation we ask him one last question: where do you draw the line?

“It happens to everybody; at test day last year I managed to leave a Zytek shaped hole in the side of Jaques Nicolet's Oak, so sometimes all you can you do is go and say 'I'm sorry, I really screwed up.'”

“You have to accept that it's part and parcel of racing. You don’t think about it when you’re in the car because you’re concentrating on keeping it in a straight line but the most important thing is the safety. You can be quick or slow but you can always be safe, and being safe means being aware of what's around you.”

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsports journalist and 9-time Speed Chills veteran.

With all of the Porsche and Webber ruckus surrounding the WEC this year it’s been all too easy to forget that there’s another, equally awesome championship happening around Europe’s best tracks in 2014. As a precursor to this weekend’s 4 Hour race at the legendary Imola circuit, we asked three of the drivers to tell us what’s so good about the European Le Mans Series.

14008436403 5576cc41d0 b

Stuart Hall - Gulf Racing

The ELMS in my eyes is just a baby version of the World Endurance Championship. The WEC is fantastic and I had the time of my life doing that last year with Aston Martin Racing, but because of time commitments and things like that we've decided to have a shot at the ELMS this year.

It's been through a period where it struggled but now it's in a massive boom; you can see by the strength in numbers in LMP2, GTE and GTC. It's really tough out there and the BoP is predominantly about Ferrari at the moment, but we love it and we're having a good time. Hopefully we'll get some good results and we might be back in the WEC next year.

At the front you've still got some really quick drivers; Bertolini, Griffin, Armindo, but there are also far more novices because It's a great learning platform for the WEC. It's strange having the GT3 cars out there because they're not that much slower than us and they're probably quicker in a straight line, so that's taken some getting used to. But like the WEC we all have the same right to be out there on the the tarmac so it's just trying to deal with the different situation.

It's going to be very difficult to get podiums and win races but if it was easy everyone would be doing it. You've just got to do your job, work hard, train hard, prepare well, and if you do that you'll give yourselves the best chance.


1941358 738374702861364 631368047951977335 o

Mike Lyons - AF Corse

Everyone that’s ever driven a sports car has had an eye on Le Mans from the moment they shut the door, and this is a way to open that door.

For me the ELMS is another rung up the ladder. I’ve been doing GT3 stuff in the Blancpain, GT Open, FIA GT3 etc. and for me going from GT3 to GTE is a big step forwards.

The WEC is the next step, and it’s not that far away; it would be easy to move up but it’s just getting the opportunity. A lot of the guys in the ELMS are doing both championships and the levels are all quite close, and the cars are basically the same.

We’ve come up to do the harder championship and so far the results have stayed the same, so on WEC race day I’ll be sitting in the garage trying to pick up information and learning as much as I can.


10269180 738374286194739 5330974105571527092 o

Romain Brandela - New Blood by Morand

The ELMS is the best championship in the world for a guy like me; it’s a lot less expensive to run in because it’s only in Europe and I don’t have to spend so much time jetting around the world.

LMP2 is another level; I like GT but with LMP I’ve discovered something different, it’s like Formula 1 for me. There are a lot of amazing drivers like Christian (Klien), and for me to work with a guy like him is perfect.

Last year I was lucky to drive and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to drive in LMP2 this year because it’s so expensive, but with the ELMS and New Blood we found a solution; now I’m here with one of the best cars, in one of the best teams and with two of the best drivers.

I love the tracks we go to; Silverstone, Imola, Red Bull Ring, Le Castellet and Estoril, and while the WEC has only five LMP2 cars the ELMS has twelve, and all of them have a chance of winning the race.

The 4 Hours of Imola kicks off with practice sessions tomorrow before qualy and the race (green flag 3pm UK time) on Sunday. The whole race will be broadcast live on Motors TV with commentary from Radio Le Mans.

You’ve been waiting for almost a whole year. 360 days ago the sun did a whole revolution while the greatest race in the world unfolded beneath it, from light to dark and back, the world following along in its wake.

14154395058 444e399714 z

Audi took the victory then, as they have seemed to do for the last decade and a half, before returning to Ingolstadt to prepare for some big changes. And now after a long, long year of build up and excitement it’s come around once again. This time tomorrow the field will be out and vying for the crown as we start the run up to the Le Mans 24 Hours.

So why the hype? What makes the 2014 edition the most highly anticipated 24 in recent years?

There’s no denying that a certain German endurance legend and a certain Australian F1 graduate are dominating the fan discussions around the world. Porsche are back to protect their place in the record books, while Mark Webber’s return (after a few spent promoting energy drinks) brings a bit more star status to proceedings.

But it’s more than that, it’s the prospect of the most competitive Le Mans in recent history that’s got the fans salivating. For the first time in way too long we have three manufacturers vying for the overall win, and all have a chance of taking that sought-after top step.

Audi have enjoyed a long run of being the favourites; a record of 12 wins in 14 years has given the current kings a fearsome reputation. But with two rounds of the 2014 World Endurance Championship having gone the way of their Japanese rivals, not even their astonishing trophy haul could make them the bookies favourites.

That honour instead goes to Toyota, whose pace and reliability have been a big middle finger to the established order in the opening stages of this year’s racing season. Neither Silverstone or Spa managed to defeat their brilliant new car, the TS040, and it’s surely to be expected that La Sarthe will have to go some way to break either them or their winning streak.

On the other hand we have Porsche, who occupy an awkward third position reserved for brand new teams: the also rans. Or maybe that’s a bit unfair as their pace in recent rounds has been higher than anyone could have expected and has given rise to some fans quietly suggesting that they could cause a major upset.

Whatever you believe, it would take some extraordinary Weissach magic to take Porsche to the top of the podium on Sunday afternoon. Do we all hope they pull something out of the bag? Of course. Do we think they can? That’s for them to decide, but we’re going to have to wait a little longer to find out.

And the great thing is that the top three constitute just seven of the grid slots. There will be battles all the way through the field; LMP2 with its ELMS vs. WEC dogfight, GTE Pro with a second tier of manufacturer intrigue and GTE Am with its inherent unpredictability. For the fans at the track and watching at home there’ll be no shortage of action available, and with a whole day’s worth of it we’re in for a treat.

LMP2 sees the WEC-leading G-Drive team turn up in one of three brand new Ligier JS P2s, a car which will make its race debut this weekend. It’s definitely a looker with its nosecone slashes and coupe stylings, and its Test Day pace showed that their 24 won’t just be a run-out session.

8653416503 e40a3b11eb b

Others to watch include British team JOTA Sport in their Zytek, Signatech-Alpine in their Alpine and Chinese outfit KCMG who arrive at Le Mans with a heavily updated Oreca and a stellar line up. The P2 field is huge and ultra-competitive however, so don’t place your bets just yet.

GTE Pro will almost be a repeat of last year’s three-way between Corvette, Porsche, AF Corse and Aston Martin, but this year also sees a privateer entry from Ram Racing in a 458 Italia. Where the Pro battle will really differ from 2013 will be in the relative pace of the cars; performance balancing measures seem to have skewed the difference, leaving AF Corse in a very strong position and Aston Martin slightly miffed.

Porsche will be as reliably reliable as they always are, but their sextet of slightly wild (and often belligerent) drivers will be sure to give us some action throughout the race. Ram have taken on a huge challenge after winning the GTE class in the ELMS last year; taking it to the factory teams will be a big task but they have the talent in both the car and the garage to cause a few upsets at the very least.

And then there’s GTE Am. Comprised of teams with both pro and amateur drivers it’s certain that the orange-stickered class will provide its usual glut of highs and lows. Over half the Am field are running Ferraris (by the end of the race you’ll be sick of the sight of them) which, as in GTE Pro, seem to have had the better of performance balancing measures.

The AM AF Corses will be hot favourites for the podium but you can never predict a result when you have such a range of talent on the track. Superstar Patrick Dempsey will be keen to improve on his fourth place last year while French ex-international keeper Fabien Barthez will make his first assault on the great race. Aston also have an outside chance with their two Vantage V8s and there’s always the spectre of a Porsche or two running well come 3pm on Sunday.

Finally there’s this year’s ‘Garage 56’ entry, which is a much sexier title than the given one of ‘Car Displaying New Techonologies’. Nissan are easing themselves back into the Le Mans lifestyle with their spacey ZEOD RC, best described as looking like Batman’s racing fridge. They’re aiming to be the first team to complete a full electric lap of the track and have enlisted two GT Academy winners and the Deltawing legend Satoshi Motoyama to help them do it.

But of course it’s not just about the racing; we’ll be hosting hundreds of VIPs at our campsites next to the track who are here not just to watch the race but to experience it. The track is where Le Mans is alive; it’s more than just the greatest race in the world, it’s a festival, a carnival, a celebration of nationality and cultures and excess. Fireworks, loud music, stunning road cars in their Le Mans liveries, everything contributes to the 24 being the biggest racing spectacle you could wish for.

It’s a different place for everybody who comes here. Some camp out on the grassy hillsides, trying not to drop off in their sleeping bags as Chevy V8s shout past at four in the morning, Some come for the parties, letting their hair down in an atmosphere of round-the-clock noise, lights and celebration. Others just do it all, queuing for hours to catch the start, filing up to Tertre Rouge and back, checking out the concert with a beer and hearing the roar of engines just metres away. It’s what Le Mans is all about.

The Le Mans 24 Hours will be live on Eurosport in the UK and on the Le Mans 24 Hours website and app. We’ll be live for the whole race posting updates, photos and reports, so get involved by following @speedchillsview on Twitter and liking Speed Chills on Facebook.

Qualifying begins (all times BST) with a 9-11pm session on Wednesday with a further two on Thursday between 6-8pm and 9-11pm. The race itself begins at 2pm UK time on Saturday, so by 2 o’clock on Sunday we’ll be celebrating one team claiming the most famous title in sports car racing.

Will it be a thirteenth win for Audi, a maiden for Toyota or a victorious resurgence from Porsche? In five days time it’ll be decided, and those who get to stand on the top step will go down in the history books forever. We’ve been waiting for a long time but now it’s back, another chance for us to experience the greatest race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsports journalist and 10-time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @speedchillsview

There are many names that conjure up an instant picture of the Le Mans 24 Hours; Porsche, Jaguar, Ferrari, Bell, Ickx… all are synonymous with the day long endurance classic. But there’s one that leaves the rest in its shadow, and there’s every chance it’s taking an Audi to the top of the podium again this year.

TK HRH Kensington

“If anyone believes that, of the three LMP1 manufacturers, somebody is just coming to make up the numbers then I think they’ll be disappointed.” says nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, “You have 4 cylinder, 6 cylinder, 8 cylinder cars, some with turbos and some not, some diesels and some petrol… it’s all very close, and we have no idea who’ll have the upper hand.”

That upper hand is something that three of the world’s biggest car manufacturers all want, desperately. Kristensen’s dominant German ringmasters may have recent history and a proven turbo-diesel hybrid concept on their side, but neither the returning Porsche or upstart Toyota will let that stand in their way.

Reflecting on the World Endurance Championship’s pre-season test, or ‘Prologue’, that took place at Paul Ricard in March, he says: “The outright fastest on Saturday was due to tail wind, the next day we were fastest but on a slower lap time in general, and I think the other one was second on both days...“

‘Car manufacturer from Japan’ have some grunt, and top speed clearly went to our ‘family friends from Stuttgart’’ but it looked like we were fastest in the sectors with corners.” His reticence in mentioning the names of either of his team’s competitors could be borne out of PR correctness, superstition or something else entirely, but Mr. Le Mans isn’t letting on.

And understandably so, because staying positive will be even more important in 2014. This year’s World Endurance Championship will be bigger and more competitive than ever before, something not lost on us as we mingle in the presence of royalty at the London Launch event at Kensington Palace.

In the two years since its inception as a replacement for the long-gone World Sportscar Championship, the WEC’s rise in stature has taken many by surprise; clearly a void has been filled in the appetites of the world’s racing fans, and with the introduction of new more road-relative rules, giants of the automotive industry are eager to be a part of it.

Intriguingly each of the major players has found a different solution; Porsche and Toyota will both be using 6MJ of harvested energy, the former coupled to a 2-litre turbo V4 and the latter a normally-aspirated 3.7l V8. Audi, meanwhile, split the two ideas with a turbo V6 but have opted to use just a third of the recovered energy in order to run a higher fuel-flow. According to Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich this will provide ‘the optimum balance’.

Orangery

Clearly the technical side of all of this is impenetrable to all but the most bearded of men, but Kristensen doesn’t believe this will alienate the fans: “I love the championship and I’m really curious about the new technology; the levels of engineering are the highest I’ve ever seen in motorsport. The different concepts mean that in theory we’ll get overtaking at different places around the circuit, and it’s going to be very intense for us drivers to hit our targets every lap.”

The targets relate to a maximum amount of fuel that can be used over a certain amount of time, so each manufacturer is keen to squeeze as much oomph out of their allowance as they can. This has lead to a bit of a horsepower bidding war; Toyota emerged first with their figure of 1000bhp while rumours have been floating around that Porsche are sporting 1250. Did Kristensen want to enter the fray?

“Numbers can mean a lot, you need the car to get over the ground and get the g-forces through the corners… but I don’t ask those questions. I just try and work on the car, try and optimise what we have. Drivers don’t think about numbers, we think about lap times and energy levels. For us it’s what’s actually happening, physically and visibly.”

“People believed when the regulations came out that we were going to be slower with narrower tyres and things like that, but it’s not true. It’s clear that the FIA is on a mission, saying ‘you want to keep the same lap times, but if we take away the engine power what will you do?’ And the answer is with the energy recovery.”

He moves on to tackle to the Formula 1-cultivated public perception of energy saving racing: “It’s going to be like F1 used to be with 6, 8,12 cylinder engines making different sounds. At the WEC you’ll be able to go out into the grandstands and close your eyes, and within the day you’ll be able to guess every car passing by. I think between manufacturers you will be able to hear the difference, even with the LMP2 cars, and that’s great for the fans.”

But it’s not just the fan-pleasing technology that has changed in Kristensen’s R18 e-tron Quattro; over the last two years he’s seen Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi replace regular teammates Dindo Capello and Allan McNish (some “very small feet in some very big shoes”, as Tom puts it), so how does the new team dynamic work, and where goes the future of Mr. Le Mans if he wins a tenth crown?

“I can’t know for sure because it’s ahead of us, but for me it’s more about the young generation. I think Loic deserves a victory which he can celebrate because last year was under special circumstances, and Lucas has the potential of being the first Brazilian to win at Le Mans… such a great nation in terms of motorsport but they’ve never had an overall victory at Le Mans!”

“That’s my personal motivation, and if that succeeds then I can go back to my family and whisper that it’s, potentially, my tenth victory. But the main focus is on the others; I’m trying to make sure we repeat last year’s championship success, and I know there are a lot of people in the pit lane, in the cars, out of the cars who want to take it away from us.”

Not least ‘a car manufacturer from Japan’ and some ‘family friends in Stuttgart’. There’s a lot to come before the WEC season ends in Brazil in November, with seven races around the world and a certain twice-around-the-clock event in France. But when even the man who holds all the records doesn’t know what to expect, you know we’re in for a thrilling ride. It seems there’s no stopping the rise and rise of the World Endurance Championship.

This weekend Aston Martin Racing are celebrating their 10th birthday, and Darren Turner has been with them for the whole decade. We asked him about 2013, 2014 and what Aston means to him:

Darren Turner

SCV - You came agonisingly close to becoming world champion last year, are you disappointed that you missed out?

DT - The whole year was going very well, we were leading the championship into the last race in Bahrain and even though we hardly ever have car failures it just happened that it was in the last race of the championship. The guys had worked so hard all year to put us in a strong position and it was one small element on the car that cost us the race. It was disappointing but as ever you go away, work harder, make changes and hopefully come back with a stronger package.

SCV - Winning last year would’ve meant that Aston Martin got some silverware in their Anniversary year, with the race team’s decade coming up this year do you feel like you’ve got a second chance?

DT - The 100 year celebration would've been an amazing time to win the championship, but look at what we achieved with race wins and always being at the front of the field. You have to remember that we're fighting the big guys at Ferrari and Porsche, so the fact that we're there anyway and able to take the challenge to them is big kudos to the team. If we can do it in the tenth year of the team it'll be another fantastic achievement for us.

SCV - You mentioned being up against the ‘big guys’, do you see yourselves as underdogs?

DT - I don’t know about being underdogs but we're always punching above our weight; we're not a team with the most funding and we're only small, but we do an amazing job with what we have and what's available. From that side maybe we are underdogs but it never feels like that on the track; we're there to be equals and do a better job than everyone else.

SCV - How has the team changed in ten years?

DT - I think motorsport's changed and the team's changed to fit in with that. When we started it was just the works cars and then it became customer cars, and now it's looking after those customers as well. Over the years GT3 has become very stable, that's a very important part of the business of Aston Martin Racing but the core element, the works team, is still there and at the pinnacle of the sport in Le Mans and now the WEC.

SCV - Do you still get the Aston thrill after 10 years?

DT - Yeah, it becomes even more special. If you're in a team with a manufacturer for a year or two you think 'yeah it's a good team and a good manufacturer but...' I feel that this is my career. I’ve been racing for 20 years but the last ten have all been with Aston Martin, and maybe my career will finish here. I feel a very integral part and a part of the family; you're with these guys so much of the year that they're not just people you do business with, we're all living this together. I feel very honoured to have had that experience; there's people like Oli Gavin and Jan Magnussen with Corvette and Bruni with Ferrari, there are few of us lucky enough to be with a manufacturer long enough to have that experience.

SCV - 2014 is a big year for the WEC, what do you think you can achieve?

DT - The boss man says we need to be there and win the championship, and I believe we're gonna have a package that's capable of it but until we're out on the track we won't know where we are compared to the competition. Going on what we did last year and the improvements we made, we should be competitive. The others may have made massive gains over the winter or they may have made small gains like we have, but this first weekend is really gonna show us where we are and what we need to do for the rest of the season.

Darren will start tomorrow's 6 Hours of Silverstone from 18th on the grid; follow his progress on @speedchillsview and on www.fiawec.com

Nissan’s LMP1 project was launched amid a lot of fanfare late last week, not least from the three GT Academy winning drivers who were present. As they smiled for the cameras and spoke to reporters an interesting question hung in the air: could somebody really go from their living room to Le Mans and take the overall win? We asked Lucas Ordóñez and Jann Mardenborough:

lucas-ordonez-signatech-nissan

“For sure that's what Nissan and Nismo want; hopefully I can be there as the first GT academy winner and I'll work hard every day to be on the top step of the podium at Le Mans.”

In 2008 Lucas Ordóñez sat down on his sofa, booted up his Playstation 3 and drove a few timed laps. Half a decade on and he’s won his class at the Nurburgring 24 Hours and twice been on the podium at Le Mans. Six years since it all began, GT Academy has become a motorsports phenomenon and is still finding hidden racing talent from around the world.

The basic formula is simple but effective. Every year players of the racing simulator Gran Turismo take part in a series of in-game challenges against the clock. The fastest go through to the regional heats and then the best go through to a boot camp session at Silverstone. The winner of that becomes a part of Nissan’s stable of racing drivers.

And so with the announcement of a return to Le Sarthe for the Japanese motoring giant there’s now a real chance that the ‘game to glory’ story might come true. A tall order, perhaps, but Ordóñez isn’t put off: “We know it’ll be tough but that's why we're competing; we want competition and we want challenges.”

Nissan, who have sponsored the GT Academy competition since its inception, are starting to reap the rewards of their early belief in the idea. Ordóñez is piloting a GT-R in the 2014 Super GT championship in Japan, and with fellow winner Wolfgang Reip will also drive the company’s ‘ZEOD RC’ prototype electric racer at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

This will be his fourth outing at the world’s most famous endurance race: “Every second I've been in Le Mans has contributed to my experience and to the new projects ahead. I've done a lot of laps and was lucky to finish all three races so far.”

“It’s taught me that I want to work as a team player and to develop as an endurance driver, to be consistent and to be good on the fuel consumption, to keep the tyres in good condition, to consistently finish and to be fast. My main goal is to be a complete driver not just a qualifying driver.”

It’s an impressively pragmatic outlook, and you get the feeling that Lucas is constantly amazed that his life has taken off in this direction. He’s not uniquely down to earth among GT Academy winners though, as 2011 winner Jann Mardenborough proves:

14271765733 9c1501cbc2 z

“For me LMP1 would be amazing but it’s a goal for the future. Nothing's a given at the moment and I just have to impress the people at Nismo and Nissan and then... we'll see!”

The 22 year old from Cardiff is proving to be something of a success story. A podium in LMP2 at his first ever Le Mans 24 Hours, success in the Dubai 24 and Brit GT, a budding career in GP3 and now signed up as a Red Bull Junior, his talent is being recognised.

Because of the way his career began, and despite his refreshing lack of ego, Jann is a strong supporter of doing the unorthodox to find the next great racing car drivers. This makes him the perfect match for Nissan who are theming their return around innovation and bucking the clean cut German status quo:

“You have to inspire the younger people and to get them involved you have to do things a bit differently. Audi, Toyota etc. have all chosen different power trains; super capacitors, flywheels, 6MJ or 2MJ and stuff like that. I don't know what Nissan's specific plans are but the way they go about motor sport isn’t like how other people do it.”

“To be around people that don't do things normally is refreshing. I'm expecting the car to look different to the other cars, pretty funky hopefully, and look like something that you'd want to have plastered across your bedroom wall as a kid.”

This attitude certainly bodes well for the next generation. Nissan are producing a project that instead of focussing on men with beards, oily rags and a working knowledge of motor generator units will appeal to every 10 year old with a controller and a passion for cars.

Look how it turned out for Mardenborough: “The things I want to own in my life are the things I had on my wall as a child; I had a 400R Nismo on my wall when I was a kid.” If he earns a seat in a 2015 GT-R LM Nismo and takes it to the chequered flag in first place, maybe Nissan will give him one and the passion will have come full circle.

Four GT Academy winners will be travelling to Le Mans for this year’s edition of the great race. That’s four people who, just a few years ago, decided to break out their Playstation and have a go at going quicker than 90,000 other gamers.

Ordóñez, Mardenborough, Wolfgang Reip and Mark Shulzhitskiy all have a chance of competing for the victory over the coming years. Only time will tell whether that chance will be in a factory LMP1 car, but with the way that Nissan are going the extra, different mile we can be sure that there’s more to come from all of them.

Playstation to podium does have a nice ring to it, after all.

Archie Hamilton, grandson of legendary Le Mans winner Duncan Hamilton, will take to the Circuit de La Sarthe tomorrow for the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We spoke to him about what it’s like to jump into Ram Racing’s Ferrari 458 Italia and take on the legendary race.

14339216112 c6fc95ce51 z

SCV: What’s it been like jumping into a car that you’ve not driven before, a Ferrari 458 Italia?

AH: I've driven the Corvette, the Porsche, the Aston etc. so I'm not so worried about that, and I've got Johnny, Matt, Alvaro and Federico who are really experienced so that will help me a lot. The team are European champions from last year as well so I'm just picking up all the advice I can and I've done a lot of simulator stuff and 2 support races here at Le Mans so I know the track which is half the battle!

SCV: What do you have to have get used to with a new car like this?

AH: I’ve had to learn everything in the car off by heart. There's a lot that you need to know: back up cranks, back up fuel pressure sensors, back up fuel pumps, another throttle cable so you can get back if the main one breaks...

There are a lot of different settings to know about and everything's thought of because if you get stuck, that's it. You get it drummed into you and they give you different scenarios like 'go to map 5, go to map 1, do this, do that'... they're trying to catch you out basically. There's a lot to take in!

SCV: Have you found any bits particularly difficult?

AH: The hardest time is actually coming in for a pit stop because you've got launch control, you've got to reset your fuel, you have to get throttle percentage and your clutch position spot on, you can't spin the wheels up, especially when your tyres are cold. People think you get a break at pit stops but you really don't, it's complicated stuff!

SCV: How long will you drive in one go?

AH: We'll go about 50 minutes on fuel and I'll be triple stinting so I'll be in the car for about three hours. It goes quite quickly because you're concentrating so much. When you get out is when you realise you were in there for such a long time, but when you're in there you're so focussed you don't notice.

SCV: What compromises do you have to make with two over drivers having to drive the car?

AH: It's really comfortable to drive but the one thing about Le Mans is that you're never going to be perfectly happy because the others have to fit in the car and the seat doesn’t move. It’s not so bad in my Ram Racing 458 because we’re all roughly the same size, but last year we had one really tall guy which made it quite difficult.

SCV: What do you think you can achieve at Le Mans this year?

AH: The first hope is to get to the end. I don't think we'll be the quickest over one lap because our car has the 2012 front end but over the race it should start to play into our hands. As long as you've got a good car and you can keep plugging away you’ll do OK because people are going to drop out here and there. Just keeping out of trouble, there's no reason why we can't get a podium.

Darren Turner still gets a bit misty eyed when he talks about his Aston.

"We were testing at Portimao at the beginning of the year. During an endurance test there's no making the car look nice it's just bolt the tires on and go. So by the end of the day the car looks filthy and it's just one of those things; you clean the badge off. You don't even touch the rest of the car."

darrenturner style=

2013 will be his ninth year with the British marque at Le Mans, but from the way he talks about the history, the future and his own massive contribution to the team, it's clear that he's not lost any of his enthusiasm.

And with only three weeks to go until the flag drops at Silverstone for the start of this year's World Endurance Championship, Speed Chills sat him down amidst the finery of the Royal Automobile Club in London's super-exclusive Pall Mall and asked him how his 2013 Vantage GTE's shaping up.

(JS) "You've been testing the car, how has it advanced since last year?"

(DT) "With last year's car we ended up with a good result at Shanghai and we developed the car quite a lot over the season; it improved and improved. But for this year's car there's a lot of technical things that've changed; concentrating on getting the centre of gravity down, weight distribution and a few things within the engine that'll help us with the balance of the car as well as on the circuit.

So the guys have done a great job; obviously when we started with the car in back in 2012 it was off the back of the LMP1 programme so it was all a case of "we're back to GTs we need to understand GT racing again". Now there's a year under their belts and they've had all that experience, and this year's definitely a good step forward."

(JS) "Strategy wise then, do you think you're going to be more in tune, especially at Le Mans where strategy is so important?"

(DT) "Well we had a good Le Mans last year. We had a brake problem after a few hours but that got rectified when Anthony (Davidson) had his shunt; the safety car gave us a bit of a break and we were able to sort out the issue. Then we had another bit of a moment, but other than that it went alright and the pace was good in the car.

But this year the biggest difference is that there are five Astons when last year it was just one, so it's going to be quite interesting. I'm not saying the team around us as individual cars aren't going to be working at the same level as us, but to orchestrate each of those 5 cars and make sure we don't trip over each other at pit stops and on the track, that's going to be quite interesting. Hopefully by the time we get to Le Mans we will have worked through the processes at Silverstone and Spa to make sure that we don't have ourselves over, let alone giving the competition any help."

03LEMANS 0610LeMans 1281edit

(JS) "Having 5 cars is a big operation, do you get to share everything between everyone?"

"Yeah everything's open at AMR. There are big technical differences now between the '12 and '13 cars; we can learn a bit from the '12 car, from tires and bits and bobs; there's some areas that we can learn on, but the main share will be between the '12 cars.

We've got three '13 cars at Le Mans; one of them's obviously got a few Am drivers in as well, but there's still some good depth of drivers throughout all the cars so we should learn quite a bit from it and it will help with development. A lot of the time over the Le Mans weekend or WEC weekend you run out of track time while you're trying to find out answers and you end up going into the race with a compromise; a lot of people do because that's how it is. With 3 cars all running to the same spec, we say "well if you try this, maybe you guys can try that" and then by the next session we've got a better idea of what's going on, so it will all help us develop the car quicker, not just throughout the season but during the weekend as well."

(JS) "Talking about your fellow drivers, how is it having Bruno (Senna) in the team, are you showing him the ropes?"

(DT) "No not at all, he adapted really quickly to the car, surprisingly so. I thought coming off a couple of years in F1 he may have taken some time to adapt to the car, but you have to say that after two or three days testing he's bang on the money, and there isn't really a problem with it.

Also what happens when you drive these types of cars year in year out is that you drive round some of the issues that are part of it, so you don't mention it any more; it's nice to have someone come in with a completely clean sheet, a fresh look at it, saying this can be improved and this can be improved. It's actually been really good having him about, he's just a chilled out dude, and a nice guy to hang out with"

(JS) "...and he's quick as well..."

(DT) (smiling) "Yeah, yeah."

TOURISTTROPHY IMG 3231 Photo

Sitting at the front of the room underneath one of the many grand chandeliers is the RAC Tourist Trophy, possibly one of the prettiest trophies in racing. Awarded since 1905, its plinth displays a who's who of the greatest racing drivers to have tackled endurance; Nuvolari, Moss, Hill, Hulme, Bell.

This year the trophy will be awarded to the winner of the Silverstone 6 hours, an event that's obviously forefront in Darren's mind; those few hours could give us a flavour of how the 2013 WEC will play out. The GTEs of Aston Martin almost certainly won't be in contention for the gleaming award, but really he's got bigger fish to fry; namely a couple of racing teams called AF Corse and Porsche.

(JS) "For Silverstone, it's just about the three big players; is it daunting to go up against what is essentially a full on factory Ferrari outfit and the resurgent Porsche team?"

(DT) "No. I'd rather go to races and have massive competition and come third than go to a race and have no competition and pick up a trophy. There's no point, you may as well just go down to the trophy shop and buy yourself a trophy and save all that money, so to me having them there is what it's all about and it just means that we have to keep raising our game.

We managed to get on top of it last year and this year everyone starts again with a clean sheet; it's gonna be hard to try and beat them but I'm definitely glad they're there, I enjoy that element. Some weekends it'll go our way and some weekends it'll go their way so we just have to try and make sure it goes our way more often."

(JS) "Silverstone and Spa will be important for your standing in the WEC, but Le Mans is the race that everybody wants to win. How special would it be to come away with a class win there this year?"

"Obviously we won it in 2007 and 2008 where we had massive battles with the Corvettes, but they were really the main competition. So although they were very special because it was Aston's first win for many years in the class at Le Mans, with this year being Aston's centenary, to be able to be on the top step at Le Mans; there'd be a major celebration.

I don't think we'd stop partying until midweek at Le Mans. I think the focus has got to be the championship but if that means we can sneak a win at Le Mans then that'd be a great way to put a cherry on the cake of 100 years of Aston."

2007-Aston-Martin-DBR9-LeMans-017-800

One hundred years is a long time for any company to exist for, let alone one that was formed in London on the eve of the first world war. While an outright victory at Le Mans has been all but elusive (excepting their single win with the obscenely good looking DBR1), the now Warwickshire based firm is one of the country's most celebrated cultural icons, and is routinely voted the 'coolest brand in Britain'. As one of the lead drivers in the most prestigious of their racing programmes, Darren is well placed to make 2013 a true year of celebration for Aston.

(JS) Regarding it being 100 years of Aston, how does it feel being in the team with that echo of history behind you?

(DT) It's a special era in Aston's history right now. 100 years they've been going and we're still a very strong company. We've got a great brand awareness as well, and as a British driver driving for Aston Martin it's a real privilege. It's still very special to me, being part of the family, and celebrating 100 years of the company is a great milestone, hopefully there'll be another 100 years.

You look back to 1959 which is the last time they won Le Mans outright; we're not in that position at this time but that might come around again. The future drivers might win Le Mans outright, but even being there now, and putting history into the pages of Aston Martin as part of the race team, is very special to me.

eau rouge spaf 2011

This weekend sees the running of the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Deep in the Ardennes forest, this fast, twisting track is rated among drivers as one of the best in the world.

Spa has everything: tight chicanes, long sweeping straights and what is possibly the most famous corner in the world. The Bus Stop, Kemmel and Eau Rouge are names synonymous with motor racing, so when you combine it with the premier endurance racing series you know something good will be created.

And when you make that creation the final race before Le Mans, it suddenly becomes that much more important.

Audi’s victory in the first round at Silverstone was emphatic but unrepresentative of what’s to come at Le Mans, with the German experts’ 2013 spec cars being pitted against last year’s Toyotas. In a few days time we’ll see just how competitive this year’s 24 Hours could be, as Toyota will finally be racing their own 2013 car at the hands of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima.

In the LMP1 privateer class, Strakka Racing will be keen to forget their Silverstone woes and make a fresh attack on Rebellion racing, but the plucky Brits could find it hard to beat the Swiss team who have looked so strong for so long.

LMP2 is almost too close to call; a great race for Delta-ADR three weeks ago has them leading the championship, but competitive entries from Pecom, Oak Racing and Greaves Motorsport mean that the P2 crown at Spa will be hotly contested and hard won.

GTE Pro saw a storming start for Aston Martin with the #97 taking a commanding win at Silverstone, They’ll be hoping to extend their lead in the WEC with a third V8 Vantage at Spa, hoping to crowd out their AF Corse and Porsche competition and giving themselves the best chance at a centenary win at Le Mans.

The Am class showed at Silverstone just how strong Aston are, with their all Danish ‘Young Driver’ #95 taking the chequered flag first, but at Spa they’ll have to deal with what are sure to be strong showings from cars such as Larbre’s Corvette, the Proton Porsche and AF Corse’s Am entry. With Spa being a vastly different kettle of fish to the flat, complex tarmac of the first round, will the Brits be able to repeat their successes or will somebody else come to the fore?

It’s a tight, hectic schedule in Belgium this weekend; two practice sessions and qualifying on Friday and the race on Saturday, so teams will be aware that any mistakes will be dangerous amid the unforgiving greenery. But whatever happens it’s sure to be an exciting race, a great show and an enlightening precursor to next month’s greatest race in the world.

You can keep up with the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter at @SpeedChillsView

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sports journalist and 6-time Speed Chills veteran

5 Minutes with... Tracy Krohn

Krohn reflect

In a field full of similar looking P2 cars and muted Porsches there’s one team in particular that stands out like a big, lime green sore thumb: Krohn Racing. Owned, funded and raced by 58 year old Texan Tracy Krohn, they are one of the most memorable teams in the paddock. We spoke to Tracy just before he slotted into his Ferrari 458 for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa.

JS - “You qualified eighth today, how are you feeling about starting that far back on the grid?”

TK -”You know, you never feel good about starting towards the back of the pack. We've got a lot of set up problems with the car, we really haven't nailed set up yet. In fact we were still working on it in warm up this morning and we're still working on it for the race, so we're not quite sure we're there yet. It should be an interesting first couple of stints before we get everything lined up, it may be one of those things where you just have to figure out how to drive the car; instead of having a good car you've just got to figure out how to drive it.”

JS - “”You're a massively popular team; looking out of the front of the garage during the driver signing earlier, there's a massive scrum of people, so what do you think it is that makes Krohn such a popular team?

TK - “First of all it's a recognisable brand; we’re the green brand, and the green colour is very recognisable. It shows up in video very well and it shows up in print very well, nobody ever says they don't see you in their mirrors! But we've had some success, we've got good drivers and a very professional team. And we really are a team, we work together very well and we don't lose sight of the fact that it's about entertaining people.”

JS - “You tend to qualify lower down and then make your way up through the race, how do you always manage to punch above your qualifying weight?”

TK - “It's about patience. I'm generally not as fast as most of these younger kids out here, so I have to be patient. The more consistent you are in longer races the better off you're going to be. Most of the time we make it to the end, sometimes we don't, but usually at the end we do fairly well.”

JS - “Talking to your lead engineer at last year's Le Mans we were told that the usual plan is 'plod round the track and hope that others, who might be pushing too hard, are going to fall off. Would you say that's a fair reflection?”

TK - “I think it's very important particularly at Le Mans because it's so fast and so easy to make a mistake at those speeds, particularly very early in the morning, or late in the morning if you will, and I think it's a real plus if you stay on the track. I think if you dial it back just a little bit then that helps, I think if you're pushing very hard for 24 hours that's very difficult to do, and particularly in a GT car because you just don't have that kind of grip. Later on the track gets narrower and narrower, and when you're getting close you try to push that's when you make mistakes.”

JS - “You race Daytona Prototypes back in the states, so why do you race prototypes over there and GTs over here?”

TK - “It's mainly convenience; we built these cars a long time ago and we're used to them and they're a lot of fun to drive, but it's difficult to run two operations in Europe.”

JS - “Why the Ferrari?”

TK - “I just think the Ferrari's a very well balanced car, the Porsches are a lot of fun to drive, they just drive very differently and this car just has better balance. I'm a fairly tall guy but I get in and out of the car pretty easily, the rest of the GT cars it's pretty hard to get in and out.”

JS - “Have you ever been tempted by something American like a Corvette?”

TK - “I have, and I'm sure it'd be fine. I've not really driven one but I've spoken to guys who have and they've liked it a lot, but it's a different balance I'm sure because it's front engined.”

JS - “You're one of only two US teams in the series, and we've had Americans on Twitter saying that they're a bit disappointed that there aren't more US teams. Why do you think that is?”

TK - “It’s because the geographic positioning is difficult. Some races are really close, for instance we go to Brazil which is relatively easy but then we'll go to Japan after that; so you go from Brazil to the US and then over to Japan, then you'll go from Japan back to the US and then to China, and then from China back to the US and then Bahrain. The reality is that if you live in Europe it's easier to get to most of these places except for Brazil.”

JS - “With the introduction of United Sports Car Racing, are you tempted to do that rather than the WEC and stay in America, because as you say it's logistically a lot easier?”

TK - “I don't know because I don't know what the rules are yet, as soon as we understand what the rules are then we'll make that decision. I haven't really been asked for any input, so the rules are gonna be whatever they are and we'll have to make an assessment based on what the rules and qualifications are. We have a prototype, and I've asked for some variances on the prototype so that we wouldn't have to build a completely different car and so far Grand-Am have completely refused that. So, OK, I understand, it's their series and they can do what they want, but I can do what I want too.”

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sports journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran, contact him

The calm, measured voice of FIA World Endurance Championship Race Director Eduardo Freitas, instantly recognisable to sports car racers around the world, is a reassuring and constant presence to not only the series’ organisers but also to its competitors.

eduardo freitas

The decisions taken by him during a race potentially affect its outcome but none of them are taken without thought and care – bringing into play the many years’ experience gained by the Portuguese in international motorsport.

Beginning as a marshal over 30 years ago, and working in every aspect of race control since, Freitas is respected and admired as a Race Director like few others. In a rare break from his duties, we asked him a few questions about what his race weekends entail:

How do you determine what calls to make concerning an incident on track during a practice session or race?

EF: “First of all it depends on the nature of the situation, the track, the experience which I take from the track marshals and the way they can deploy human resources or rescue vehicles. The first criteria to consider is how severe it is, if there is physical danger for example, and that immediately goes into a separate ‘folder’ where normally one would call for a safety car or red flag if it involves the well-being of someone – the driver, the marshals or the public. The main priority is always safety and the rest comes as a consequence.

“If it’s something minor we tend to resolve it by sending in a marshal to pick up debris, for example, or to deal with a situation, but if it’s something more serious then we have to go to a more serious plan such as a safety car or ultimately a red flag.

“As a race itself, my view is that these are 6-hour races and they are not to be divided into shorter parts. Personally I only use safety cars when absolutely necessary.”


Before every race, you make a detailed track inspection. What does this involve?

EF: “Before I arrive on site I study the layout of the track to understand what possible lines the drivers can have. When making the inspection, you must look out for recent works which might not be finished, the wear of the track – if there are holes behind kerbs, for example, or anything that is exposed which can put the drivers or cars into danger.

“You must also look out for places where drivers can short-cut and make an advantage [in lap time or position] out of it, and I can call on people such as YannickDalmas – the FIA WEC’s Driver Advisor – to give me feedback on how a driver will approach Turn A or Turn B and how we can improve safety at that point.

“For example, at Bahrain last year, due to the level at which the driver’s head is inside the car, at Turn 7 was basically blind. It’s in the middle of nowhere, with no identifying references, and we had to consider that in this championship we have both professional and gentlemen drivers. In order to improve the visibility and, after discussing it with Yannick, we put a bollard in the apex of Turn 7 and we then had no problems at all in that area. It’s good to have the experience of a driver who can give me data in this type of case as I never raced myself.”


What information is available to you in Race Control during an event?

EF: “It changes from circuit to circuit. In Europe we have two sources of information on the video side which is the TV feed and the Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras around the venue, which are a good source of help and we have a lot of footage from CCTV cameras which TV viewers don’t see at home. Sometimes on TV it looks one way and on CCTV the story can be totally different, and it can be misleading to the TV viewer.

“We can re-trace on CCTV as many as 10 previous laps of a particular car before an incident to see what sort of line he has been taking through a corner, and what changes he might have made when something happened, either contact or an accident. It’s a useful tool but unfortunately at circuits such as Sao Paulo we don’t have this available; there it’s all based on TV broadcast.

“We have access also to other data, including that of the car. We don’t run a set up as sophisticated as F1 where they have live data of the car on each lap, but here we have it at intervals of one hour when the car stops in the pits and downloads its data. Sometimes decisions have to be taken with urgency to get back to the sporting value of the race. We have quite good information from the timing, although we don’t run GPS systems and use just three timing points around the track, and that’s also important for analysing the behaviour of a car on track, deltas of speed and so on. We are working on a progressive way to increase this information but it’s a very expensive business and has to be done step by step!”

How do communicate with the teams during an event?

EF: “We communicate by means of information on the timing monitors and I can also speak to them via the pit wall radio – a frequency which works only one way, they can’t talk back to me – and we also have an internal messaging system where teams can ask questions and we can answer them all individually and privately.

“Marshals must communicate with the Clerk of the Course, normally someone national, through a radio system, and they communicate with the drivers through the flag system which has now been in use since 1896. It’s the only way we have to ‘speak’ to the drivers live, other than via the teams’ own radio system. We can’t yet send an SMS or BBM, for example, but the technology exists and the time will probably come when we can do that.”



For further information on the FIA World Endurance Championship visit www.fiawec.com

This Sunday is an important one for every team who hopes to be taking home the trophy after the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours. It’s the return of the traditional Test Day, where we get an opportunity to have a good look at the machinery that each team will be running, and start to make our predictions about who’s going to be quick and who’s going to end up in the gravel.

Audi Toyota Following

Test Day serves a number of purposes: setting up the car, data gathering and just getting back into the swing of Le Mans’ unique challenges will be at the top of the list for established teams and drivers. But it’s also a requirement for the teams, cars and drivers that haven’t raced in the 24 before, with the ACO requiring attendance to ensure everybody’s up to speed.

So it’s going to be an extremely busy day. Almost all of the teams are already in their pit garages having flown their cars and staff over earlier this week, and nerves are rising in anticipation of finding out how their opposition will fare; fingers will be crossed hoping for a smooth and informative test session.

Cars are currently undergoing scrutineering, with officials poring over each team’s machine to check that they’re in line with the regulations. There’s some more of that tomorrow, and then Sunday is when the action happens. There are two 4-hour sessions, from 9am ‘til 1pm and then 2pm ‘til 6pm, which gives a great amount of running time but doesn’t include night racing.

So who should we be watching out for? The headline is likely to be how the Toyotas get on, or rather how they perform relative to the Audis, as these are the two teams battling it out for the overall victory. With Audi’s dominant victory at Silverstone and slightly-less-assured-but-still-ominous win at Spa, it’s fair to say that many still consider Toyota to be the underdogs. But in the context of Le Mans the last two races are water under the bridge; when you get to La Sarthe anything can happen. As for the rest of LMP1 there’s just one thing we’ll really be looking for; will Strakka have improved enough to be able to challenge Rebellion?

OAK art car

LMP2 will give us loads to watch on Sunday. This will be the first time that we’ll be able to draw a direct comparison between entries coming from the WEC, ELMS, ALMS and AsLMS. It would be a bit of a useless exercise to make predictions but it is worth following the Oaks in their pink and black (and massively multicoloured art car), the twin Delta-ADR and G-Drive Racing entries and the return of legend in the form of the Signatech Alpine team, but with 22 P2s in the running the day should give us more of an idea of who to look out for.

The GT Pro field looks mouth-watering this year: two Porsches, two Ferraris, two Corvettes, two Vipers and three Astons are all being raced by their own factory teams. While the Astons and Ferraris have looked strong in the face of a stuttering Porsche so far in the WEC, the addition of the two US teams (and a token customer Ferrari from Brit team JMW) the test day gives us the first opportunity to draw some ideas on how the 24 will play out.

GTE Am is similarly competitive, with a jumble of 911s, 458s, V8 Vantages and Corvettes all vying for the Pro/Am mix honours. Among the GT classes this is the one that features the least changes to the WEC field, with the only differences being second entries from Larbre and IMSA Performance Matmut and two new challengers in the form of Prospeed and Dempsey-Del Piero, both in 911s.

This time last year we were eagerly anticipating the first runs from the Deltawing, but if you’ve been following Speed Chills View you’ll know that its 2013 ‘new technologies’ successor, the GreenGT H2, was withdrawn from the race because it wasn’t ready, so the #0 pit box will be empty this year.

But it’s not just those competing at this year’s LM24 that will be there; a number of other cars will be around to put in an appearance and get a feel for Le Mans, and a couple of those who will be racing in 2 weeks have sneaked in a second car to try and double the amount of test data they generate.

So there you have it; that’s test day in all its glory. We’ll be following the events closely and making regular updates on our Twitter feed (@SpeedChillsView), and hopefully come Monday we might all have some idea as to how the race might turn out.

Jamie Snelling is a Freelance Motorsports Journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran.

The Circuit Paul Ricard is alive with the WEC at the moment. The world’s premier endurance series has returned to the track for its test session, now renamed The Prologue, and brought with it a field of cars that will spend the next 8 months duking it out for the title.

PR Lines

This the first time that we’ve seen all of this year’s entries attacking the same piece of tarmac, but there’s only one question echoing around the French Riviera: are Porsche on the pace?

The short answer requires a distinctly Gallic shrug; everybody’s on their own schedule and flat out speed is difficult to judge. However, taking the grain of salt that must be taken, the performance of the shiny new 919 Hybrid is not to be sniffed at.

First we turn to Audi, though. The returning champs have kept their usual level of quiet confidence simmering away despite challenges from both the pedigree of Porsche and the technical advances of Toyota; twelve wins in fourteen years will do that to a team.

Plus, the car looks fantastic in its slightly tweaked grey/black/white livery with blazes of reflective red thrown in; some some much needed fire has been painted over the German understatement. The sound is different too; the familiar whoosh is now followed by the grinding of a well tuned diesel engine and a spaceship aftertaste.

Toyota, meanwhile, have almost 1000bhp. That’s 480 from a 3.7l V8 and a whopping 520 from the electric motors that have been bolted onto each axle. The urgency in the car is immediately visible to anyone standing and watching, with sharp cheekbones replacing the smooth wings from the TS030 and a more aggressive note from the V8 that burbles viciously on the way into the slower corners.

The early times would suggest that Toyota haven’t been able to translate that gigantic power figure into gains on the track, but of all the teams present we suspect that it’s Toyota who are hiding their hand. The drivers certainly appear to be comfortable with the car, which seems to be exhibiting Audi levels of sure-footedness and confidence through the corners.

Surprisingly, Porsche are showing the same planted look. The 919 Hybrid doesn’t appear to be lacking in the set up department, though the crew do seem to be a bit more tentative when putting the boot down. The choice of a V4 is something that needs to be proved rather than just dismissed, but the turbo noise is fantastic.

Less fantastic are the looks. Where the 917, 956, 962 etc. are considered classics it’s difficult to foresee the same happening with the 919. Audi’s perfect proportions and Toyota’s love-or-hate-them front arches at least have a bit of character; Porsche’s new contender looks more functional than anything and isn’t helped by an uninspiring paint job.

PR Porsche 1

Porsche do have two major things going for them though: the pace and the pedallers. There were a lot of very guarded predictions flying around before The Prologue about how quick the returning legends were likely to be, but they seem to have exorcised the gremlins that they had evidenced up to this point; they’ve been top of the timing screens with regularity.

Their three-driver lineups are also very strong, with the teams of Dumas/Jani/Lieb and Bernhard/Webber/Hartley seeming to tick both the youth and experience boxes. But there are signs of a few worries; Neel Jani making so-so gestures when exiting the car and Mark Webber not sounding 100% sure during his press conference could be signs of a less than happy atmosphere in the garage.

The square-jawed Aussie did give some positive insight into his switch from the WEC’s feeder series though. Noting that the LMP1 class isn’t really that different to F1 (bar more weight and less downforce) Webber admitted that he was re-learning a lot from his sportscar-bred team mates and that 2014 prototypes are a different animal to those he raced at the turn of the century. That said, the learning curve clearly can’t be too steep as at the time of writing he’s sitting comfortably at the top of the timesheets.

Talking of old cars, Rebellion’s much publicised R-One wasn’t ready for The Prologue so the Anglo-Swiss team have brought their 2013-spec Lola-Toyotas. They’ve thankfully returned to their traditional red, white and gold livery but it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t the ideal situation for them; other than giving their new signings (Dominik Kraihamer and Fabio Leimer) some P1 track time, they won’t be getting much out of this two-day session.

As for the rest of the field there isn’t much to report; most of these cars have been brought straight through from 2013 with a few upgrades, while Strakka’s new Dome-built P2 contender suffered a lack of readiness and didn’t even turn up. I can report that AF Corse have ruined their once-pretty red, white and green livery with a hefty amount of yellow lipstick, and that the Proton/Prospeed Porsches are as difficult to tell apart as we thought they might be.

Of more interest are Ram Racing in their 458s. The Pro car of Griffin/Parente/Rossiter is the only privateer entry in the class, with all three drivers bringing a wealth of talent to the table. They might be underdogs, but don’t write them off.

Ram’s Am entry is equally interesting, with old hand Johnny Mowlem and old stig Ben Collins joining USA’s Mark Patterson in the gentleman drivers’ field. They’re up against some stiff competition in the form of 8 Star, Aston Martin and a brace of AF Corses, but with an ELMS GT title under their belts they’ll be hopeful of a good look in come the first round at Silverstone.

Day two of the pre-WEC test kicks off tomorrow with an open gate to the public, so the pressure is mounting. We’ll have a more in depth look at the practice times in tomorrow’s View From…, so stay tuned to Speed Chills to find out if Porsche’s form can weather the Audi and Toyota storms.

The Le Mans concerts are a traditional (or traditionally bizarre) feature of the 24 Hours, but every year we turn up and wonder who the hell that is on the stage and why the hell they’ve called themselves that? Every now and then there’s an absolute cracker (The Stranglers come to mind) but normally they’re unheard-ofs strumming away nervously.

Le Mans gig

This year we thought we’d do our research first; a kind of public service. So we’ve trawled through each act’s online offerings, selected the best (or weirdest) ones and stuck them all on this here page. Read on to find out who’s surprisingly brilliant, who sounds like the wrong gender and who definitely isn’t actual Earth, Wind and Fire. Plus there’s a Speed Chills exclusive addition at the end...

Wednesday

20.00 - Sharon and Tracy

When you consider that they’re an all-male four piece from Le Mans we think Sharon and Tracy are a strong contender for weirdest LM band name 2013. They sound ok though, apparently straddling rock, new wave and ‘noisy pop’, which we much prefer to that awful ‘quiet pop’ that we hear all the time... might be worth a look in.

21.00 - Puggy

It wouldn’t be Le Mans without at least one ridiculous band name; last year’s Shaka Plonk and Pony Pony Run Run are still the ones to beat but Puggy are representing for 2013. Formed of an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Swede, they’ve described themselves as being at the crossroads of pop, rock and diverse world music which I imagine is good if that’s your cup of tea. You never know, it might be worth having a look before Wednesday’s night qualy takes off, if only so you can wonder about their name. Really... Puggy?

Thursday

20.00 - Jack & Lumber

Apart from sleeping all night and working all day, Jack & Lumber spend their time being wistful and strumming at their guitars with faraway looks in their eyes (we imagine). They’ll be peddling their ‘unique’ brand of folk during Thursday’s first qualy session, so it might be fun just to see how much they struggle to be wistful over the top of a Viper V10.

21.00 - Asaf Avidan

Hailing from Israel and sounding a bit like a wishy-washy Adele on helium, Asaf Avidan is actually a bloke. But fear not, because if Youtube is anything to go by he’ll be accompanied by a harem of ladies floating around, shaking tambourines and hitting bits of wood with sticks; it’s all a bit futuristic and free love-ey. Apparently he’s been compared to Janis Joplin and ‘oscillates between blues, rock and folk’; we might ‘oscillate’ our way to the bar instead.

Saturday

20.00 - Big Wireman

Local one man band extraordinaire (we think, if we translated it right), Big Wireman will be teaming up with his good friend ‘White Cigar Boy’ for his LM24 gig on Saturday. Underage smoking references aside, we think he’s got a bit of an Elvis impersonator vibe deep down among his weird screaming. He’s probably a bit of an old dude.

21.00 - Dallas Frasca

Punkish Aussie rockers Dallas Frasca (humbly named after the lead singer) are maybe the most promising of all the acts at Le Mans this year. It’s all dyed hair, big beards and angry drumming, but with their bizarrely countryish vocals and distorted, riffy sound they actually got us nodding along and doing those rams horns things with our hands that rock people do. Also they have a moody, brooding song about Burnt Toast, which is totally relatable. Burnt toast can go to hell, man.

22.00 - Not Earth, Wind and Fire

Ok, that’s not the act’s actual name but we’ll be forgiven for thinking so after the EW&F debacle that happened earlier in the year. It’s actually a tribute band featuring Al McKay, who was actually one of the major players in the proper EW&F for seven years but is now on the list of former members... along with 38 other people. The official LM24 website promises us sequined outfits so it can’t all be bad, but we’re not quite ready to forgive them for not getting the actual Earth, Wind and Fire along. Our suggestion is to take a beer with you and pretend they’re not just an experience; surely September and Boogie Wonderland will sound the same after a couple?

So that’s all of the official LM24 bands. But because Speed Chills knows that beer and bites go so well with beats we’ve got you covered music wise: JAG and Jamie B are back this year and they’re ready to raise the Members’ Club roof once again. Check them out by clicking on their pictures below to see why the Speed Chills party will be utterly superior to the free-for-all happening behind the Dunlop Bridge. We’ll see you at Le Mans.

Audi Sport Team Joest took a third successive victory at the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours on Sunday afternoon, leading from the start to take the chequered flag amidst rain, drama and tragedy at the Circuit de Sarthe. At just past 3pm the #2 R18 e-tron Quattro of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval passed the start/finish line for the final time after 348 laps of racing.

Podium 2013

But an event that would otherwise be remembered for its record number of safety cars, rare low attrition rate and fantastic nerve-rending battles will instead be remembered as the year that Allan Simonsen, driver of the #95 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage, sadly lost his life after succumbing to injuries sustained in an early accident.

The race started in surprising style as a greasy track played into the hands of the as yet unimpressive Toyota Racing team. While Andre Lotterer blasted off the line straight past Allan McNish, both the #7 and #8 began to scythe their way up the field to wild cheers from the fans who had never expected to see a proper race. But after less than 15 minutes racing the safety cars came out for Simonsen’s stricken Aston Martin, and from then on a cloud hung over Le Mans.

When the action finally got underway again the track had dried and a standard Audi domination seemed to be on the cards. Down in GTE Pro we had expected AF Corse to be challenging for the win but their performance was underwhelming, so it was lucky that the latest round of BoPs had ensured that Porsche would take their place. We started seeing the buds of a fruitful battle with the #97 Aston Martin’s Darren Turner being chased by Marc Lieb’s #92 911 RSR and Rob Bell’s #99 sister V8 Vantage.

Back in P1 Toyota were returning to their usual form, putting in a mix of fair and slow lap times and suffering from strange intermittent problems that had Sebastien Buemi briefly stopping on the Mulsanne. Light drizzles wafted across various parts of the track, catching some unawares at the Mulsanne and Dunlop chicanes. The Oak Racing Morgan-Nissans took up their positions at the head of the LMP2 field at the hands of Brundle and Gonzalez.

Next came safety cars 2 and 3 as first a punctured Alpine and then a spinning Lotus left debris all over the Mulsanne. Once we were racing again and the drivers had all been told to be more careful in the tricky slippiness the race began to settle down, all three Audis setting purple sector times and stretching their lead. The lights began to flicker on in the grandstands and the sky turned inky as night fell at the Circuit de Sarthe.

And it was in the dark that the understandably subdued atmosphere came alive once again at the expense of Audi’s usual infallibility; you can’t expect the 11 time winners to fail without eliciting a good dose of schadenfreunde. Benoit Treluyer’s leading #1 was the first to show problems, having trouble pulling away from a pit stop, before Oli Jarvis in the #3 pulled up at the Dunlop Chicane with a severely delaminated rear tire.

While Jarvis limped back to the pit rather faster than his whirling rubber should have allowed the #1’s issues reared their ugly head again. Pulling back into the pits just two laps after his scheduled stop Treluyer’s car was jacked up and pushed back into the garage. 45 minutes later it reemerged sheepishly at the hands of Marcel Fassler, leaving behind it a garage choc full of flustered Audi mechanics and the box for a brand new alternator.

This completely changed the dynamic of the race. Suddenly the hopes of the entire Audi crew were dropped on the head of newcomer Loic Duval who was very aware that behind him were the two unexpectedly competitive Toyotas of Alex Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin. Duval responded brilliantly; despite all the pressure he drove well to extend the car’s lead.

Audi 2 Flyby

In GTE Am the Porsches were having a good run with the #88 Proton Competition leading an AF Corse Ferrari and an IMSA Performance Matmut, with the photographers’ favourite Patrick Dempsey hanging on not far behind. There was also revelation in P2 as Playstation graduate Jann Mardenborough smashed his way onto the top flight sports car scene with fastest laps galore, working his #42 Greaves Zytek from amongst the P2 also rans all the way up to third. The G-Drive Oreca-Nissan was running in first but the Oaks were still lapping strongly.

There was a brief safety car break to clear up the stricken ADR-Delta of Tor Graves before we went racing again, the GTE Am battle morphing into a Porsche on Porsche contest, the #77 leading the #88. The paparazzi were out in force again; McDreamy was challenging for a win at Le Mans. Dempsey’s teammate Joe Foster got so annoyed with the media scrum that he pushed them out of the way as he swapped with the TV star. Good stuff.

Then another safety car was out, a theme was starting to develop. This time it was Tracy Krohn in his eponymous green 458, not wanting to break with his week’s tradition of bad luck and driving errors by stranding the car at Corvette corner on the final lap of his stint. His co-driver Nic Jonsson, suited, booted and ready to jump in the car, looked rueful.

We entered the witching hour surrounded by empty coffee cups and TV shots of sleeping pit crew. The GTE Pro competitors weren’t sleeping though with Rob Bell and Darren Turner having swapped positions around an ever strong Marc Lieb, the whole pack having bunched up in the early hours. But the budding Pro battle was cut short once again by yet another safety car, this time for a nasty looking smash for the Status GP of Tony Burgess out of Corvette Corner. Large parts of the car splintered off, taking the impact well and proving the safety of the Lola chassis; Burgess emerged unscathed.

It was late and slippery; prime time for inexperienced drivers to make mistakes on cold tires, and sure enough barely minutes after the three safety cars had been put to bed they were called upon once more, now for a big smash at the end of the Forest Esses for Howard Blank in the #54 AF Corse. A long period of waiting ensued as the armco had to be replaced, giving fans and teams a good opportunity to catch a half hour nap. It was the seventh safety car so far.

9096188274 7ee7ff8202 b

The fight for the race was nervous as we entered the morning, Duval leading Lapierre and Buemi with Jarvis not too far behind. Lap times were roughly the same, a second taken here and a second lost later. It wasn’t so in GTE Pro though; a drying track had inspired Aston Martin to put slicks on Turner’s third running #97 which looked at first to be premature. However when Turner started going five seconds quicker in the middle sector people started to take note, and Aston’s choice was vindicated.

More rookie drivers started to run out of talent as the sun threatened to rise, and none more so than Romain Brandela of DKR Engineering. First he spun at the Dunlop Chicane, then he took out the #88 Porsche which was at the time leading GTE Am, and then he caused the #55 AF Corse to take to the grass in avoidance. Carnage in three corners, a good example of the necessary risks associated with rookie drivers at Le Mans.

Mucke’s Aston dropped off the lead Pro lap when the new day’s rays started filtering through the upper grandstands and the fight for first became a two horse race; Richard Lietz holding off Bruno Senna. Similarly in P2 the JOTA dropped off the pace via the gravel at Tertre Rouge and resulting damage, allowing the #42 Greaves of Michael Krumm up into third. They pitted, fixed it and sent Mardenborough back, but the ex-gamer clearly doesn’t do mornings as early driving errors had fans with hands in front of eyes.

Meanwhile in the Ams Patrick Long was having a happy time of his Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, casually lapping a full five seconds faster than the rest of the field and bringing the Dempsey Del Piero Proton Porsche within range of the leading IMSA Matmut/AF Corse match. We never found out if he would’ve caught them though, as Bill Auberlen’s #98 Aston developed a puncture that destroyed the rear of his car down the Mulsanne, dropping a long trail of oil and giving the safety cars another excursion round Le Sarthe.

The safety cars came in, the safety cars went out; Le Mans can be a stuck record sometimes. This time it was the leading P1 privateer #13 Rebellion at the hands of Andrea Bellichi, just getting the rear unstuck out of the second Mulsanne chicane, snapping back and hitting the barrier nose first at an oblique angle. Despite some broken ribs Bellichi managed to coax his very wobbly Lola back to the pits minus a good portion of front and side bodywork; Rebellion did manage to fix it in the end but it was too late to remain competitive.

Girls podium 2013

We had been racing under green flags for barely another hour before disaster struck Aston Martin yet again; in any other race it would’ve been tragedy, but in racing everything’s relevant. Fred Makowiecki, who had so impressed with sizzling lap times and dazzling overtakes through the race so far, crashed headlong into the armco coming out of the Forza chicane. It was an eerily similar event to Simonsen’s fatal accident; lose the back, snap left and Mako was on rails towards the metal.

But due to lesser speed Fred was uninjured as he hopped out of the car and vaulted the barrier. He leaned on it with his arms folded, head bowed and clearly dejected; the track went quiet as images were shown of his pit crew flattened by the late loss from the lead and a disfigured V8 Vantage lying flattened on the N138. Now they only had one real chance to win it for Simonsen, the #97 of Turner, Mucke and Dumbreck. Everybody agreed that we didn’t need any more heartbreak, we were sick of that barrier repair lorry by now.

Turner took it on himself to catch up with Lieb, and he managed it. After the two pitted for final tires and drivers the battle was handed over to Mucke and Lietz, and they set right to it, Mucke pulling right up behind Lietz and hassling him relentlessly, setting his car’s fastest time in the race after 22 hours and 40 minutes. Then the rain came down. Hard.

Fourth running Nicolas Lapierre went headlong into the tire wall at the Porsche Curves. The Boutsen Ginion went off at the first chicane. The Thiriet by TDS aquaplaned into the Mulsanne armco, almost taking out the LMP2 leading Oak. But Mucke and Lietz didn’t give up, they duelled in slow motion through Arnage, Porsche Curve, Corvette, Karting and approached the pits. Mucke went in, Lietz didn’t, the safety cars came out. After another half an hour the track had dried and the Aston had to pull in again for new slicks, their challenge over. There won’t be many celebrations in the Aston Martin camp tonight.

The race restarted with just half an hour to go, not long enough for even a minor downpour to change the result. As Tom Kristensen neared the finish line they didn’t assume the usual three abreast Audi formation; instead Tom was followed in by second placed Sebastien Buemi’s Toyota in respect of the tense and brilliant battle that had gone on nervously for 24 hours, and by Jamie Campbell-Walter’s Aston Martin #96, sister car of the #95. Third went to the #3 Audi of Marc Gene, Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis.

9100446962 8c529b7f19 b

In LMP2 the Oaks held on from mid race all the way to the end, the lead swapping a couple of times but ultimately taken by the #35 of Bertrand Baguette, Ricardo Gonzalez and Martin Plowman. The #24 of Olivier Pla, David Heinemeier Hansson and Alex Brundle took second and the G-Drive Racing of Roman Rusinov, John Martin and Mike Conway took third.

GTE Pro ended as a 1-2 finish for Porsche who will be pleased to mark their return to their traditional stomping ground with a class victory, if not an overall one in a prototype. The #92 911 RSR of Mark Lieb, Richard Lietz and Romain Dumas took the victory followed by the #91 of Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Pilet and Timo Bernhard, and third place was taken by the valiant but unlucky Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage of Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Peter Dumbreck.

GTE Am was also a Porsche success story in the end with the fan favourite #76 IMSA Performance Matmut team of Raymond Narac, Christophe Bourret and Jean-Karl Vernay taking a well deserved win. Second was the #55 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Piergiuseppe Perazzini, Lorenzo Case and Darryl O’Young while third position went to their teammates the #61 AF Corse of Jack Gerber, Matt Griffin and Marco Cioci.

In the end nothing could overcome the pace, experience and reliability of the #2 Audi. It was an exceptional drive from Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval; the now 9-time winner, the Scottish terrier and the talent on his Audi debut. They led for almost 15 hours and never put a foot wrong, and they battled through rain, shine and incident to take the chequered flag by one lap’s margin.

But despite the fantastic race, really one of the hardest fought 24s for some time, the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans will always be remembered as the year when the 9-time winner of the race cried on the podium, the Danish flag flew at half mast above the grandstand, and motor racing lost one of its stars. Congratulations to Audi, Tom, Allan and Loic, and rest in peace Allan Simonsen.

It’s been a long wait. Over the past couple of months we’ve had to endure heat waves, enviro-mentalists and F1’s abysmal pretence of a race at Spa. But we’ve weathered the weather, left the protesters in our wake and put the ‘top level’ tedium behind us, and after 68 days of twiddling our thumbs proper endurance racing is back, Samba style.

2013-6-Heures-de-Sao-Paulo--20130828SaoPaulo-7990 hd

This weekend the FIA World Endurance Championship returns to the mean streets of Sao Paulo for the 6 Hours of Brazil, round four of the championship and the first race back since the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Set at the historic Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (Interlagos to its friends), this race marks the start of the frenetic season finale; five races being held across the world over the next 3 months to determine who will win the WEC honours in 2013.

Interlagos is considered one of the greatest challenges to a sports car driver in the world; the combination of massive elevation changes, anti-clockwise direction and ridiculously long pit lane are unique to Brazil and make the circuit a force to be reckoned with, especially for inexperienced teams and drivers.

After such a long time off it was inevitable that there would be some changes to the normally consistent WEC line up, and fast-incoming rule changes for the 2014 season have inspired some teams to switch their focus to next year.

While the currently unstoppable Audi are bringing both of their Le Mans winning driver line ups to Sao Paulo their competition, Toyota Racing, will only be bringing one of their TS030 Hybrids to the party. As for the rest of LMP1 the sole British entry in the category in 2013, Strakka Racing, have bowed out to concentrate on some secret WEC-flavoured plans which leaves Rebellion Racing to field their reduced one car entry for the rest of the season.

LMP2 sees a drop from eleven entries at Spa to nine for round four, as both Gulf Racing Middle East (not much of a loss) and JOTA (which is a shame) are missing out. When you consider the woeful performance of some of the LMP2 entries at Le Mans we reckon it’ll be good to see a proper privateer prototype battle this weekend, and as always we’re sure to be treated to a real royal rumble as Oak, G-Drive, Delta-ADR, Greaves, Pecom and Lotus all vie for the P2 podium.

2013-6-Heures-de-Sao-Paulo-rebellion

The GTE Pro roster remains blissfully unchanged as the two Porsches, two AF Corses and three Astons are still well in contention for the 2013 crown. Porsche will be looking to build on their huge performance leap and double points haul at Le Mans to extend their slim championship lead, but strong weekends from either of the others could throw a serious spanner in the Stuttgart works.

The ‘gentleman drivers’ of GTE Am are similarly all returning for the next round, with IMSA Performance Matmut currently sitting on top in their Tricolor strewn 911 GT3 RSR. However they only lead by a single point from the (also French but not quite as patriotic) Larbre Competition’s Corvette, and the close championship standings mean that anybody except Krohn Racing could come out of this weekend at the head of the pack.


There are three practice sessions (two on Friday and one on Saturday morning) before the action starts in qualifying on Saturday afternoon at 6.35pm BST. The lights go out for the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo at 4pm UK time and you can watch both quali and the race live at www.fiawec.com. Make sure you join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting @speedchillsview where we’ll be covering the whole thing live.

Interlagos is famous for a reason and 6 hours worth of racing is sure to spit out some of the WEC’s usual excitement. The Audi machine might be dauntingly brilliant but Toyota have form around the home of Brazilian racing; it was here that they shocked the world with their maiden win last year and it won’t be beyond them to do the same again this weekend. In fact, anything could happen, and that’s just one of the reasons that we’re so glad endurance is back. The race is certain to be the usual mix of eye opening thrills and six hour long grudge matches, so we’ll see you at 4pm on Sunday as the World Endurance Championship returns for the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo.

The #1 Audi team of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer returned to their winning ways tonight as they swept to a commanding victory in the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Sao Paulo. But the story of the race never really focussed on the eventual winners as the ever growing fan base was treated to a race full of intrigue, action and bizarre moments.

Sao Paulo Audi

The promised fight for the lead between Audi and Toyota was brought to a crashing and premature end early on, as the lone TS030 was knocked off the road bare moments after the start of the race. Dominik Kraihamer in the #32 Lotus T128 lost control around Turn 3 of the Interlagos circuit, side swiping Stephane Sarrazin and ending the race for both drivers. Sarrazin made a sterling effort to rip stray pieces of carbon fibre from his #8 but could not get it restarted, and finished his race rather earlier than he would have liked.

This led to a slightly muted battle for the win as the two Audis fought amongst themselves for lap after lap. In the first few hours of the race it seemed like the win might go to the #2 R18 of Allan McNish, Loic Duval and Tom Kristensen as the Le Mans winners were relentlessly quick. But a bizarre incident involving a loose wheel bouncing on top of the car and nestling in front of the rear wing brought around two stop and go penalties that left them in second place, four laps behind their teammates.

Marcel Fassler passed the chequered flag after a gruelling 6 hours of racing to take the victory, while Toyota’s disappointing day allowed the #12 Rebellion of Nick Heidfeld, Nico Prost and Mathias Beche to take a well deserved podium in third place.

The LMP2s had an uncharacteristically quiet race as the #26 G-Drive Oreca-Nissan put in an utterly flawless performance to take the class win. The battle for second place was a tense and drawn out affair, but in the end the silver honours went to the #35 Oak Racing effort just 19 seconds ahead of the eagerly chasing Pecom team. Greaves Motorsport came fourth in their #41 Zytek Nissan ahead of the #45 Oak Racing art car, while the final #24 Oak of Alex Brundle and Olivier Pla overcame a potentially race-ending suspension issue to bring up the rear. The #25 Delta-ADR and both Lotus T128s failed to finish the race.

The GT classes once again gave us some of the most exciting moments of the evening as we saw wins for both AF Corse and Aston Martin. The Pro Ferrari 458 of Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella triumphed in a race long battle with the #97 V8 Vantage of Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner, where the Aston was rarely more than two seconds behind and often looked like a truly serious threat to the leaders.

Sao Paulo Vilander Fire

GTE Pro third and fourth were taken by the two factory Porsche entries, with the #91 finishing a lap ahead of the sister #92. The rest of the field provided much of the race’s spectacle, with both the #98 and #99 Astons being involved in collisions and the second AF Corse bursting spectacularly into flames; TV images of Toni Vilander bailing out of the raging inferno that was once his 458 Italia are sure to be shown for weeks to come.

There were more mixed emotions for Aston Martin in the GTE Am class as victory for the #96 of Stuart Hall and Jamie Campbell-Walter came at the expense of a surefire win for the #95, the car in which Allan Simonsen tragically lost his life at Le Mans. While a 1st place would have been cathartic for the all Danish Young Driver AMR team they were left, frustrated at the side of the track, by a hub failure on the rear right wheel just over an hour from the end.

This allowed Hall and Campbell-Walter to step up and take their first win of the 2013 World Endurance Championship, with the 6 Hours of Spa winners 8 Star Motorsports coming in second and the #88 Proton Competition Porsche third. Rounding out the Am order were the IMSA Matmut Porsche, Krohn Racing 458 and the problem-struck Larbre Corvette, while the #61 Am AF Corse spent most of the day facing backwards and generally pinballing around the Interlagos scenery.

So it seems like the WEC is Audi’s to lose. With four races to go it’s starting to look like it will be an internecine battle between the #1 and #2; a string of good results for tonight’s winners could yet see them trumping the LM24 victors, and only a miraculous recovery from Toyota can throw a spanner in the German endurance behemoths’ works. The next race is in three weeks time as the circus rolls into Texas for the concisely named 6 Hours of the Circuit of the Americas, where the whole field will be keen to either consolidate leads or make inroads into the championship.

For all the latest in the WEC make sure to follow Speed Chills on facebook (www.facebook.com/speedchills) and on twitter (@SpeedChills and @SpeedChillsView).

The 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship looks increasingly one sided after the #2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval took a well-earned win in the inaugural 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas.

COTA Audi 2

But in a twist to the format it wasn’t their sister car that pushed them to the end as a resurgent Toyota Racing put in an impressive performance to finish just 23 seconds behind, in the process reviving hopes of a competitive end to the championship. The fortunes of the #1 were lowered early on by a stop to replace bodywork before being dashed through a series of driver errors and penalties, as the 2012 championship winners Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer faded back into ‘laps behind’ territory.

The eventual winners and the chasing TS030 were always close, and in the end it came down to a stunning series of drives from all three Audi drivers (but Duval in particular) just pipping the Toyota’s faster pit strategy. The race lit up as the Audi was repeatedly asked to overtake the competition, leading to a number of risky moments and some heart-stopping overtaking manoeuvres worthy of a proper endurance race.

Rebellion Racing, the only other entry in the top LMP1 class, had a brief moment of excitement when it looked like the #1 might be so stricken with issues that they’d end up on the podium, but some rapid (and erratic) driving from the Audi team allowed them to outstrip their repeated trips to the pits to avoid an embarrassing end to the race.

LMP2 was the usual tense affair, and first to blink was the otherwise rather imperious performance of Oak Racing. While G-Drive had a poor start from pole, dropping down the order after some dodgy pit stops, the two lead Oaks battled for hours between themselves for the class lead. Quick and fair racing was on offer, notably from Brits Alex Brundle and Martin Plowman, and it seemed as though the fight would go to the close. But all good battles must come to an end, in this case when the #35 tried an ill-judged dive down the inside, bounced off the kerb and effectively elbow dropped the #24, leading to both dropping out of contention.

G-Drive rescued their race expertly, the team of Roman Rusinov, John Martin and Mike Conway crossing the line a full lap ahead of second placed Pecom Racing and just nine behind the leaders. Third place went to a chuffed Lotus team who had initially looked as uncompetitive as usual when on the first corner at the start of the race their #31 spun and couldn’t restart, bringing out a safety car. But their #32 carried on plodding round at the hands of Thomas Holzer, Dominik Kraihamer and Jan Charouz to take the bronze medal position, their first podium.

COTA Astons Pack

G-Drive’s team mate Delta-ADR finished fourth in class five laps down with Greaves Motorsport coming through one lap later. The two Oaks were eventually brought back into service but didn’t have time to make their way up the order, the #24 rightly beating the #35 to tenth overall. The Oak art car fell prey to a catalogue of driver errors, finishing 25th and only completing 39 laps.

Yet again the GTE fields provided a healthy chunk of the action, mostly at the hands of the doubly-victorious Aston Martin Racing team. In GTE Pro the three Vantage V8s were slimmed down to just one running entry, as the #98 suffered from electrical problems after looking thoroughly impressive at the hands of Richie Stanaway and the #97 suffered suspension damage over a high kerb. But leave it to Bruno Senna and Fred Makowiecki to thrill, weathering a ferocious Ferrari storm to set purple times aplenty and take the win by just 15 seconds.

The twin AF Corse entries of Bruni/Fisichella and Kobayashi/Vilander took second and third after having a cracking battle of their own, while the factory Porsche #92 wasn’t quite up to the pace and eventually took class fourth. The #91 911 RSR had a hairy moment early in the race when a fire broke out in the front left corner of the car during refuelling, which burned on for some time before being quelled. The car was wheeled back into the garage before being sent out again four laps later to circle the Austin track into fifth place.

LM GTE Am was an all Aston fight to the finish as the #95 of Thiim, Nygaard and Poulsen tried to hold off the searching attacks of the #96’s Stuart Hall and Jamie Campbell-Walter. In the final hour of the race the fight came to a head; the #95 first swinging past the #96 before being repassed soon after. The ROFGO car, without amateur driver Roald Goethe for the second race in succession, finally took the flag a scant 1.8s ahead of their all-Danish Young Driver team mates.

COTA Toyota Rear

Third place went to the IMSA Matmut Porsche, quietly but competently driven by Raymond Narac and Jean-Karl Vernay, while fourth went to class pole sitters 8 Star Motorsports, followed by Proton and Larbre Competitions and the single Am AF Corse entry. Krohn Racing brought up the rear at their home event after some baffling electrical issues, but the roar that greeted their re-emergence from the garage will go some way to lifting their spirits tonight.

The championship is beginning to look rather good for the #2 Audi team; only a dramatic failure can stop them from taking the crown from their teammates in 2013. Join us in Japan in a month’s time for Round 6 of the FIA World Endurance Championship, where Toyota will return to a two car entry in order to try and win their local race. With their return to form in Austin it’s sure to be another classically exciting WEC contest.

It’s not how they would’ve wanted it to happen, but Toyota Racing took a nominal win at their home race today after downpours and rolling B-movie fog put paid to any semblance of an actual race. For just over 4 ½ hours the sodden Japanese fans stayed gamely in their seats, with little more than a static line of endurance cars and a few tentative sighter laps from the safety car to see.

Fuji Rain Audi

While the race started on time under safety car conditions the snaking train lapped the Fuji circuit just 8 times before the red flags began to wave forlornly. That handful of laps threw up a few surprises, with the pole-sitting #1 Audi coming into the pits three times with a throttle problem and some tactical changes from gentleman drivers. But the suspension of the race hamstrung all of the prospective excitement, and despite one other attempt to get the action restarted the contest was effectively over within the first 20 minutes.

When the rain wasn’t coming down the mist was descending, and despite regular puddle exploring, sideways-drifting cameos by Yannick Dalmas in the Audi RS5 safety car it never really looked like we’d get any meaningful running. Burger box boats were raced down the pit lane, Bruno Senna egged on some berzerk fan arm waving and Aston Martin hung a cardboard racing fish from their gantry, but the hours barely crept past.

With hours left on the stopped clock and a curfew fast approaching the grid was allowed to circulate once more before time was called and the running order became the final order. Due to the #1’s brief affairs with the pit box it all ended with Kazuki Nakajima’s Toyota #7 in the lead ahead of the championship heading #2 Audi, while the #12 Rebellion took another overall podium in what is becoming a relatively successful year for the Swiss team.

There was no change in LMP2 as the #35 Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan took the class win, with Mike Conway’s G- Drive Oreca and debutants Gainer International in a well-qualified third. The other two Oaks came fourth and ninth respectively with Delta-ADR, home team KCMG, Pecom and Lotus filling in the gap.

Fred Makowiecki won the GTE Pro procession in the #97 Aston Martin, which he shared this weekend with Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke. The #51 AF Corse of Bruni and Fisichella came in second in front of both factory Porsches, while poor qualifying left the sister Ferrari in fifth. The #99 Aston of Stanaway and Lamy crashed on its way to the grid and so started a lap down, ending last in class.

Aston’s luck was in for the Ams too as they took both first and second on the podium. While it had looked like the Larbre Competition Corvette might be in with a shout after qualifying between the two V8 Vantages, it had its own incident on the way to form up before the race and didn’t emerge until the safety car train had passed the pit exit twice. Third in class was taken up instead by the Proton Competition Porsche 911 with 8 Star, IMSA Performance Matmut, Krohn and the Am AF Corse rounding out the order.

At the time of writing there has been no communication as to how many points drivers will score; the short distance means half points for the teams but seeing as most cars had only one driver for the 16 total laps, this bizarre race could send shockwaves through the world championship tables.

Amid all the pomp and ceremony it’s really the local fans who should have been up on that podium, and an impromptu autograph session after the race went some way to rewarding them for their superhuman perseverance. The organisers and race officials made the best that they could of the dire situation too, so a round of applause should go to the people who made a lot of very difficult decisions in unprecedented circumstances. The penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship is just three weeks away as the circus heads off to Shanghai, and teams, drivers and fans will be eager to see the spectacle that Fuji promised but ultimately couldn’t deliver.

At 2.30am last Sunday my alarm went off. I’d changed it the night before so that it would play the most annoying noise in my phone’s repertoire, reasoning that I’d be more likely to get up at this stupid hour if I was a bit grumpy. As it turns out I needn’t have done that because I woke up excited as a kid at christmas, leapt out of bed and put Motors on the telly and Radio Le Mans on the headphones; Round 6 of the World Endurance Championship was just half an hour away.

Fuji Gainer Umbrella

Many of you will know that I tweet all WEC races live on @speedchillsview. I diligently fired up Tweetdeck, hugged my cup of tea close and got stuck into the conversation that always surrounds races of this calibre. Everyone else was excited too; the usual rabble deep in discussion about the not-very-knife-edge championship and the raindance we’d all been doing for a Toyota resurgence at this late stage.

Meanwhile, in Japan it was absolutely p***ing it down. Talk was of wet weather strategy, starting behind the safety car and the two GTEs that had already come a cropper on their way round to the grid. It’s not one of our greatest traits as human beings, but racing fans often hanker after horrendous conditions that add a bit of spice to proceedings, and most of us were quietly looking forward to seeing just how successful the superstars would be when toeing the line between pace and the tyre wall.

The race started behind the safety car, a full grid snaking its way along the asphalt and around the newly forming Japanese Lake District. Some of the GTE Am teams decided to be a bit clever and put their gentleman drivers in the car for these slow laps, which would’ve been a great idea if the race wasn’t subsequently red flagged. Then the long wait began.

They just kind of sat there, really. All these championship hopefuls just chilling out on the grid, wondering when the rain would sod off, while we were caught in this horrible purgatory somewhere between sleep and an endurance race. There was a brief excitement scare a couple of hours later when the same grid sailed around the same eight wet laps, but only a very blinkered optimist would’ve believed we’d see a race at any point. It was cancelled after 4 ½ hours of not racing, with Toyota taking the ‘win’.

I was gutted; my Christmas kid had had his presents set on fire in front of his face. Whenever I turn on the WEC, I get 6 hours of utter escapism where all that matters is what’s happening on track and who I can share it with around the world. I didn’t get that. I felt cheated.

And yet it was one of my favourite races of the year, and to understand why let’s hop in my time machine and go back a couple of years to the 2009 Malaysian F1 Grand Prix. Mark Webber, as head of the Formula 1 Drivers’ Association, walks down the pit straight while consulting the various men on the grid. They’re wondering whether to refuse to carry on if Charlie Whiting waves the green flag, it’s all very combative, us and them, trade union vs. Ecclestone’s fatcats.

Fuji Wet Car Closeup

Now fast forward back to Fuji last week. I know the organisers had more leeway with a race that’s three times as long, but there was no raging argument to be found anywhere on the river Fuji Speedway. Apart from a couple of tweets from drivers (I remember Jamie Campbell-Walter in particular barking his view out, and rightly so) and some bizarre post-race PR strangeness from Porsche (hat-tip to Marcel ten Caat from www.dailysportscar.com) the conversation was always good natured, discursive and most of all, fun.

Back on track, the teams were displaying a good natured acceptance of the situation. First to blink were the Porsche lads with their burger box boat, then the Krohn guys decided to pass the time with a quick game of their fake American kind of football. Gold prize, however (and not because we’re at all biased) goes to Aston Martin with their leftfield entry which we’ve named ‘Gulf-sponsored cardboard racing fish’. It was the prettiest fuelling gantry you’ll ever see.

The drivers were doing their bit to gee up the crowd, too. Bruno Senna played a weird kind of Simon says with some Toyota fans, a sort of ‘I smile and wave, you go mental’ effort. Kazuki Nakajima made regular appearances on the pit wall, and the Lotus boys provided some entertainment with their hurried bailing of the picturesque new Lake Lotus which had formed either side of the T128’s shark fin.

The Japanese fans were bloody heroes. They sat there resolutely, twiddling their thumbs and cooking their noodles in makeshift tents, for hour after hour. After the race they were compensated with a spur of the moment autograph session, a great decision from the organisers and something you feel wouldn’t happen elsewhere. For us at home though, all we had was the coverage and the conversation.

So thank the Lord Eduardo Freitas for a) you lot and b) Radio Le Mans. Even though there was absolutely nothing to talk about, we managed to talk about everything. Hindhaugh and the team were on superb form, as always, but this time with the added difficulty of having to conjure their usual infectious excitement out of thin air. I had a few brilliant conversations with some of you as well, so thank you for keeping me awake.

It all made me realise what a special thing the FIA and ACO have with the WEC. We all get brought together for 6 hours every month or so, and during that time we have a laugh and enjoy the racing. It’s a completely different atmosphere to the commerciality and politics that hamstring the ‘top’ form of motor racing, because it always feels like a load of blokes (and ladies, an RT from Bruno Senna filled my timeline with attractive brazilians) sitting around in the pub having a good old natter about sport.

And actually, just generally thank the Lord Eduardo Freitas. Overlooking some delayed penalty-giving in Spa, he and his team have been spot on for the entire season. In comparison, F1 has a dearth of interest most of the time and the organisers feel that controversy equals audience equals money, so it’s such a relief to have things settled on track and stewards’ decisions taking the invisible back seat for once.

If in a couple of weeks I switch on the TV only to find a Chinese deluge happening, I’ll still be disappointed. You’ll not catch me praying for rain to spice up a race ever again. But it’s nice to know that even if there’s nothing going on, you can still rely on the fans for entertainment, some consolation and a bit of banter to while away the hours.

The circus keeps racing on, and after the rain soaked antics of Fuji we’re all in need of a good sports car battle to sate our racing appetites. This weekend we return to China, land of democracy, fake brands and censorship, for the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. If last year’s outing is anything to go by, we won’t be disappointed.

2012-6-hours-of-shanghai-audi-sport-282-960x480

The Shanghai circuit is one of a rare breed: a 5.5km Hermann Tilke success story. The WEC field will tiptoe through the ever-tightening first corner, push the limits of grip through the sweeping middle section and then get the hammer down along the back straight; it’s a tricky circuit that rewards the brave and punishes the foolhardy. It’s also shaped to look like the Chinese character ‘Shang’ which means ‘above’, though to be honest it could say anything and our uncultured western eyes wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

The 6 Hours of Shanghai will be another two day event, with double helpings of Free Practice sessions and Qualifying shootouts on Friday and the race on Saturday. China is 8 hours ahead of us in the UK, so you’ll have to be a bit of an early bird to catch the action on www.fiawec.com or Motors TV; 8am for Friday qualifying and 3am for the main event.

The race itself promises to be everything we were hoping for in Japan; a battle between two Audis and two Toyotas for the top spot of the podium. The Audi and Toyota #8 crews are unchanged but the Japanese marque’s #7 car will be without Kazuki Nakajima who is on duty in Super Formula. P2 and GTE lineups are staying largely the same too, with Aston Martin the only exception as they undo the reshuffles done for the last few races.

The teams arrive into China knowing that the clock’s ticking on the 2013 championship. The top honours are a bit of a foregone conclusion after the Audi #1’s late season woes have left them hoping for an act of God; Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer need a 41 point swing in the last two races to retain their championship. It’s highly likely that we’ll be crowning Messrs McNish, Kristensen and Duval on Saturday afternoon.

But in all the other classes there’s a lot to play for. LMP2 is becoming a dogfight between Pecom and the two Oaks, with the sporadically impressive G-Drive having an outside chance.The AF Corse of Bruni/Fisichella leads GTE Pro by the slimmest of margins; 3 points ahead of Porsche and 5.5 from the Turner/Mücke Aston Martin with 50 points left to play for. In the Ams it’s just as close, with the #96 Aston holding a tentative lead over IMSA Performance Matmut’s Porsche and 8 Star’s Ferrari.

You can follow our coverage across the weekend, with our editor tweeting live through the night at @speedchillsview (click to follow) and reports up on Speed Chills after qualy and the race. With just two rounds left the FIA World Endurance Championship is coming to its climax; the next 12 hours of race action will be some of the best we’ve seen all year. Keep your eyes peeled when the field crosses the line on Saturday for the 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsports journalist and 7 time Speed Chills veteran.

It’s not often that Audi Sport Team Joest are the underdogs in the FIA World Endurance Championship, but they had to fight for victory today as the #1 trio of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer took the win at the 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Shanghai Audi win

From the start it was Toyota who looked strongest, with the #7 TS030 of Davidson, Buemi and Sarrazin streaking away to an early lead. Its sister car, the reduced #8 team of Wurz and Lapierre, soon passed the slow starting #1 that had qualified ahead of it, and the world settled down to watch what it thought would be a refreshingly dominant show from the Japanese duo.

And so it was until, well into the race and in sight of the end, the #7 pulled into the pits with Davidson shouting about ‘something being broken’. Something was indeed broken; the rear left suspension had gone and the car had to be retired This left Alex Wurz to try and defend his slim lead, and with half an hour to go he exited the pits for the last time barely two seconds ahead of the chasing Treluyer.

The frenchman had victory in his crosshairs; he turned his R18 e-tron Quattro up to full volume, steadily hunted down the now relatively sluggish Toyota and passed him in an inspired piece of traffic based opportunism. From there nothing could stop him and after six hours of racing he took the chequered flag to end a run of poor results for the #1.

The #2 team had been quietly circulating all afternoon, but their race plan had an ulterior motive; when they crossed the line in a distant third place they secured the points they needed to win the 2013 World Endurance Championship. The #1 on their car next year will be reward enough for having to drive carefully, and you can expect a celebratory performance at the final race in Bahrain.

LMP2 was its usual tense affair, with much of the field looking good for a podium at different points during the race, but at the end it was G-Drive who showed their skill in taking the class win. Victory for the Russian team means that the championship is still alive, but second and third places for the two primary Oak Racing teams mean that they’ll need a poor performance in the last round to lose the championship.

They were followed by G-Drive’s teammates Delta-ADR and Greaves Motorsport, who had looked very impressive and good for a champagne celebration until some late pit calls hamstrung their track position. The third Oak took 6th ahead of the lone remaining Lotus, whose garagemate had retired half way through the race. However, worst off were the otherwise lead-troubling Pecom team, whose electrical problems left them twiddling their thumbs in the pits having completed just 56 laps.

GTE Pro served up its typically competitive bevy of action, with highlights being the AF Corse/Aston Martin dogfights and the internecine battle between the two factory Porsches. In the end it was a dominant performance from Aston that gave them the win; the #97 Vantage V8 of Mucke and Turner crossing the line a bare half a second ahead of the #99 of Senna, Lamy and Stanaway.

Late race woes from the #51 and #71 Ferraris saw them drop off the podium, and their place was happily taken by a somewhat surprised looking #91 team of Bergmeister and Pilet with teammates Lieb and Lietz rounding out the Pro order. The result sets up a proper showdown in Bahrain, with all three manufacturers in with a real shout of a championship win.

The Ams fought equally hard amongst themselves around the Shanghai Circuit, and for the majority of the race it looked like #95 Aston of Poulsen, Nygaard and Thiim would run away with the victory as they swept away from the competition. But in what has been a tragic season for the all Danish team it wasn’t to be, as once again their Vantage failed just past the half way mark. The win was taken by the thoroughly deserving 8 Star in their orange Ferrari 458, repeating their success at Spa earlier in the season.

Second went to IMSA Performance Matmut who will be aiming for a championship win in three weeks, and third went to the final Aston Martin of Campbell-Walter, Hall and Adam. They were followed by the Proton Porsche, Larbre Corvette and Am AF Corse, while the Krohn Aviation Ferrari spun into retirement at the last corner with 50 laps to go.

So it’s massive congratulations to the new champions, Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval. Their outing at the Bahrain International Circuit in three weeks will almost certainly be ecstatic, while Toyota will be determined to salvage something from their rather quiet season.

But throughout the rest of the field it’s all to play for, with Oak, Aston Martin and IMSA Performance Matmut all heading to the Middle East with high hopes of a world championship in their classes. We’ll be reporting live from the whole event, so make sure to stay tuned to Speed Chills when in three weeks time we wrap up the season with the Final Round of the 2013 World Endurance Championship.

The WEC has been good to us this year. Unlike its little brother Formula 1, the World Endurance Championship has given us twists, turns, ecstatic highs, heartbreaking lows, tense cat and mouse tactics, balls-to-the-wall action and even a Japanese deluge or seven to thrill us across the year.

And in true endurance style it’s all (well, mostly) going right down to the wire. Audi and their Le Mans winning #2 team of McNish, Kristensen and Duval managed to seal all of the overall honours a few weeks ago, while Strakka’s withdrawal hands the privateer title to Rebellion. But everything else is still in play, the LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am Trophies will all be fought for this weekend at the 6 Hours of Bahrain, so who needs what to win?

Oak 35 LM

The cost-capped prototype class is currently headed by the two black and pink liveried Oak Racing cars, with the #35 Baguette/Plowman/Gonzalez team boasting a handy 15 point lead over their #24 sister car helmed by Brundle, Heinemeier Hansson and Pla. Also in with a (slim) chance are Pecom and G-Drive, who are 20.5pts and 22.5pts behind respectively.

A third place in Bahrain would be enough to take the championship for the #35 car, and having finished third or higher in five of the seven races in 2013 (including P2 victory at Le Mans) the smart money will be on them. The other hopefuls will be looking for an unprecedented DNF from the current leaders, which would leave the #24 Oak needing third or higher and both Pecom and G-Drive needing a class win.

GTE Pro

The Pros have been a highlight this year, and it’s fitting that a battle that’s been hard fought since Silverstone is so close as we enter the final race weekend of the season. What at first looked like a dogfight between Aston Martin and Ferrari turned into a menage-a-trois when Porsche romped home to victory at Le Mans.

Aston Spa front on

After seven races there are three cars still in the mix, one Aston, one Ferrari and one Porsche. The #97 Vantage V8 of Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke sits at the top, 8.5pts ahead of the Fisichella/Bruni AF Corse and 15.5pts from Lieb and Lietz in their factory 911 RSR.

This means that a second place will be enough to hand Aston the trophy, while the #92 Porsche duo need to finish first or second to stay in the running. The #51 458 Italia has to beat the current leaders to the line in a position that will reap nine or more points, so for a Ferrari championship the #97 has to finish at least third or lower.

GTE Am

What the Pros can do, the Ams can do better but a little bit slower. Like their all-professional older siblings the Ams go to Bahrain with a trio of cars still in contention, and bizarrely it’s another Aston leading another Ferrari and another Porsche. After a slew of good results in the latter half of the season it’s the #96 AMR of Hall, Campbell-Walter and Goethe at the top, but their lead over second placed 8 Star and third placed IMSA Performance Matmut is tantalisingly slim; just five and nine points separate the respective chasers from the current table-toppers.

96 Aston Martin pits shot

Because of the tiny points gaps this is the class that’s hardest to call; almost any combination of positions could flip the top three on its head. With five other cars in the GTE Am field it’s likely that a 1st place for any of the three could mean the title, while a DNF could see championship dreams slip through their fingers.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsport journalist and 7 time Speed Chills veteran. Contact him on Twitter (@speedchillsview)

It feels like it’s been a long time since we saw the WEC field sweep past the Silverstone lights for their first racing lap of the year, but after 7 races in 8 months and 60 hours of on track action we’re finally approaching the end of the road.

Bahrain at sunset

In typical endurance style, it’s down to the wire. This weekend sees the return of the 6 Hours of Bahrain; a race that crosses from blazing light to cold, desert dark before spitting out winners and losers alike. It’s here that the Audi top dogs will turn their victory laps, but across the rest of the classes the fight rages on.

The Bahrain International Circuit is a tarmac oasis stuck in the sands of the tiny island that constitutes the Kingdom of Bahrain. Built in 2004 about half an hour’s drive from the centre of Manama it’s a 3.4 mile grey ribbon that's well suited to endurance.

The season will come to a thrilling end when the chequered flag drops at 9pm local time on Saturday, and while the McNish/Kristensen/Duval team in the #2 Audi have already sewn up the overall championship there are trophies to be grabbed throughout the rest of the field.

Oak Racing look odds on for the P2 win while Aston Martin are in strong positions in both GTE classes, but good results for any of the other teams could see victory go any way.

Off the line the WEC contenders are faced with a tight right hander which opens up into a straight via an accelerating left/right combo. Turn 4 is another sharp right before the Maggots/Beckettsesque 5,6 & 7 lead to tight right number three. Sweeping 9 and slow left hander 10 lead into the back straight.

800px-Bahrain International Circuit--Grand Prix Layout.svg style=

The exit of 11 gives the cars an opportunity to really open the taps through 12, peg back a bit for 13 and then bomb down the long south straight. The 90 degree turn 14 slings them through the almost nonexistent 15 and down the pit straight for another lap.

Bahrain might be far enough south to warrant shorts in December but it’s only three hours ahead of the UK, so unlike Fuji and Shanghai you’ll be able to watch at more respectable times. The qualifying can be seen from 12.45 GMT on Friday (oh come on, you wouldn’t be doing any work then anyway) and the race will begin at midday our-time on Saturday.

As always the fans are well catered for, with both qualifying and race sessions being broadcast live on Motors TV in the UK and online at www.fiawec.com; with commentary from the unbeatable Radio Le Mans it’ll be an exciting evening made even more tense by the silverware on the line. We’ll be covering the event live from the circuit too, so make sure to like us on Facebook and follow @speedchillsview on Twitter for exclusive news and views from the middle of the action.

We’ve only got 6 hours of racing left in the 2013 WEC, and what a finale we’re in for. Seven trophies are still up for grabs, so each and every driver will be keen to see the year out with a bang. We’ll see you in a few days time for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsport journalist and 7 time Speed Chills veteran. Contact him on Twitter (@speedchillsview)

Rebellion Racing had a quiet 2013 in the WEC. A lack of competition in the privateer category meant they were often only racing amongst themselves, while mechanical failures dogged their assault on Le Mans and they ended the year on fire in the sands of Bahrain. But with the new year come new opportunities; we spoke to team manager Bart Hayden about 2014, new beginnings and mixing it up with the big guns.

Rebellion on track 2013 2

I’ve always imagined that being a Rebellion fan is a bit like supporting Everton. They loom in the shadow of the top dogs, sometimes pulling off extraordinary feats of giant beating but never in with a real chance of glory. Their budget is big enough to ensure that they’re the quickest of the non-factory teams by a decent margin, yet small enough that they would need some bizarre luck to win the overall prize outright.

So they’re stuck between a rock and a slower rock; always a crowd favourite due to their smart livery and non-factory status but rarely seen lighting up the timesheets. However the new year brings with it a crisp new rulebook, and Rebellion plan on kicking their challenge up a gear.

As team manager, Bart Hayden is the man in charge of taking the privateer fight to the factory fat cats. Our interview came as something of a chance encounter; crossing paths in the lobby of a Bahraini Hotel I almost mistook him for a Rebellion regular. Dressed in the brilliantly understated team uniform of shorts and black t-shirt, here was a man who doesn’t just run the team; he gets stuck in.

The next day saw me dropping into a sandy-coloured, Sci Fi-esque hospitality suite behind the team’s garage at the Sakhir Circuit, swapping the pleasant winter heat of Bahrain for dim lights and icy air conditioning. A few t-shirted men sat around a table staring intently at laptop screens, but Bart had soon whisked me around the corner and into what appeared to be the laundry room.

A couple of comfy leather chairs and a plastic IKEA table had been squeezed into one corner, relaxation clearly playing second fiddle to the logistics of packing crates and drivers’ dirty race wear. Space comes at a premium in these places; Rebellion have the dough to hire team buildings for flyaway races but the smaller teams often don’t. Audi, obviously, have a big, German complex.

Rebellion see a lot of Audi, often as those vertical tail lights hiss past but sometimes while looking up from the third step of the podium; it’s the curse of the privateer to labour in the background while the big names tussle amongst themselves, picking up the scraps when it all goes wrong for someone higher up the pecking order.

It was the day after the team’s lone old Lola-Toyota qualified a second quicker than it had the previous year, which in F1 terms corresponds to about a million pound’s worth of development. The problem was that with big money and proper competition Audi and Toyota had improved even more, spurring each other to greater heights through the desire to win. Hayden doesn’t blame them; they’re in the same race after all, but he speaks plainly about the chasm in the old rules:

Rebellion in pit 2013

‘I think that something should’ve been done about pegging (the gap) back a little bit in the regulations. I think the ACO recognise that there’s a need to give privateers like ourselves an opportunity to mix it with the factory guys, not necessarily to win but at least to be a part of the game.

If they don’t then they’re not sending the right signal to the privateers; they’re going to be saying “we’re not interested in you”, why would anyone else come and why would we stay? So I think that they recognise that.’

There’s clearly some bitterness amongst the team for what could be considered a bit of a non-season. Hayden changes tone, though, when we move onto 2014; he seems hopeful that Rebellion’s isolated WEC bubble could burst under the new regulations.

Talking animatedly he lists the reasons why he expects to be in a much better situation come the season start in April. Firstly it’s the move from air to fuel restriction; whereas before the balancing would have come from changing the size of the air intake, from this year they’ll be chopping and changing the amounts of fuel available. As Hayden points out, this means that giving any team a leg up is as easy as doling out an extra couple of gallons.

Reason number two is that everybody has had to start from a blank sheet, and he singles out some returning legends in particular: ‘I don’t know what (design) approach the three different factory teams are going to take but I envisage it might be somewhat different, so it’s hard to say really whether one of them may have an advantage over the others.

Maybe Porsche could be finding their feet initially, and even though they’ve got a massive organisation there might be a couple of opportunities early on for us to capitalise on.’

It’s reassuring to hear such positivity, especially when the object of his third reason is such an unknown. It comes in the shape of a brand new ORECA designed LMP1 car, made exclusively for the team and named the R-One. Due for shakedown in mid-March the Swiss team and French manufacturers will be pushed for time, but Hayden doesn’t seem too phased:

‘We’ve experienced car builds and upgrades over the years and they’re always to the wire. You never really get them with time to spare so we’re not really anticipating anything different next year. It’ll all be quite down to the wire, with late nights as we get close to the deadlines.’

He smiles when I ask whether this just makes it all the more exciting: ‘There’s certainly not a lot of time to relax and there’s not a lot you can do by way of contingency either. We’re in the race business and it’s all very last minute, trying to eke out the last amount all the time.’ As he points out, the final race of the season starts at 3pm but the team were at the track by 9 o’clock; every second is precious in motorsport.

There’s even less thumb twiddling when it comes to the collaboration on such a big project. While the basic design of the R-One is entirely down to Oreca it’s important that Rebellion have their input; Hayden and operations manager Ian Smith visit the factory every few weeks to check on progress, decide on tech specs (brakes, dampers, clutch etc.) and make sure that the finished product will be a good fit for the drivers; the whole cockpit was pretty much designed around regular driver Nico Prost.

Rebellion ROne

Hayden admits that sometimes there can be differences, but they rarely cause an issue: ‘They (Oreca) might have had one preference and we might’ve had the other but we weren’t necessarily going to fight our corner overly strongly. We’re trying to let them do their job as much as we can; we don’t want to crowd them and risk delaying the project. But at the same time we want to be involved so that we haven’t got surprises, we can plan for what’s coming.’

Of course the machinery is only one part of a much bigger team equation. While the R-One will hog most of the media spotlight there’ll be a lot going on behind the garage shutters, pit wall shelters and steering wheels. Prost is still the only confirmed driver of the two car WEC entry, but regulars such as Matthias Beche and Andrea Belicchi are almost certain to return for 2014.

One man who won’t be returning is rising star Neel Jani who has been snapped up by Porsche for this year’s championship. But Hayden isn’t worried about filling seats, admitting that being the only P1 team with free slots puts them in a rather nice position; his team are in conversation with a number of drivers and he hints that they’re spoilt for choice.

However, it’s difficult to deny that no matter how good the new car and crop of driving talent are, it’ll all be somewhat wasted if Rebellion are just racing themselves in 2014. With Strakka Racing dropping down to LMP2 after a couple of lukewarm years at the top and not much interest from teams elsewhere, this year’s non-factory competition might have already been won. I asked Bart whether the privateer trophy was a bit of an ‘also ran’ challenge:

‘In 2012 when we won the trophy we were up against JRM, we were up against Strakka and we won it on absolute merit. This year when Strakka decided to withdraw from the championship we were leading, and we can’t help the fact that we haven’t got anybody now to particularly compete against... in the history books people will look back and see that we’ve won two world championships, and (he adds, as if to reassure himself) we have.’

I ask why they don’t follow Strakka’s example and move to P2, where ‘absolute merit’ is a relatively bigger factor: He muses for a second before saying: ‘The tantalising prospect, however small it might be, that we could get an outright victory is one that appeals to and intrigues us. P2 is really competitive and I think it’s a great class; maybe one day we might look to see if that’s somewhere where we’d like to play. But at the moment we’re very focused on P1, that’s where we feel our home is.’

Rebellion Mechanic

‘We’re competing here with a fraction of the budget that’s available to the factories, and we very much see ourselves as David in the David vs. Goliath battle. We don’t expect to be victorious every time we go out; but we’d like to think we’ve got the chance to do it.’

The Middle Eastern sun is starting to drop behind the grandstand and Bart is a busy man, so I squeeze in one last question before I leave him to his bleak laptop screens and chilly pit building. 2014 is going to be a big year for the WEC; is it going to be a big one for Rebellion too?

‘We would love to be able to go to each race genuinely thinking that if we do a good job we’ve got a chance of being on the podium. But without having even seen the car in the flesh, without having put it on the track and without having seen the competition it’s very difficult to make a prediction.

I’d love to get a win, of course I would, and the ultimate goal is to win Le Mans. You go racing to get results, you go racing to improve what you’re doing and to get the most out of what you have. We have to go into each race with that goal or we are just going to be making up the numbers, and that’s not why we come racing.’

Maybe I was wrong to call it the ‘curse of the privateer’ then. For all of the factory teams’ excellence in pushing the boundaries of technology and pace, they’re largely motivated by the need to sell us their road cars. Teams like Hayden’s sit at the apex of a completely different kind of racing; the kind where you’re in it for the thrill of the chase and the chance of ending up as that rare creature, the victorious underdog.

It just so happens that Rebellion are in a good enough position to take a challenge to the massive operations ahead of them, and we thank them for that. If they carry on with the aims of getting results, improving what they’re doing and getting the most of what they have, they’re going to be a huge thorn in the side of Audi, Toyota and Porsche in the coming months.

And if they do cause a couple of big upsets, well… you’d have to be a little boring not to celebrate. Bring on the WEC in 2014.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance journalist, and at the tender age of 24 is already a 7-time Speed Chills veteran. Follow his random motorsport-based outbursts on Twitter (@speedchillsview)

Motorsport has always been at the leading edge of the technological advance through history. Designers and manufacturers throw themselves into the competition, constantly on the look out for ways to steal an advantage, and in the process create new technologies that filter down to make civilian motoring that much better.

Perrinn font on

But while the sport can often produce great new ideas in race craft and machinery, the ways that teams are run and funded never come under the same scrutiny. It’s taken as gospel that the current model of ‘winning = more fans = bigger sponsors = bigger bank balances’ is the most logical way of doing things, and the players will jealously guard their advantage to stay at the top. Of course it’s the right way; it’s always been like that.

Enter the internet. Fans now have access like never before; teams and drivers feel obliged to share their every step with cyberspace in order to gain a following that TV alone would struggle to achieve. It’s a fast, young offering that the patrician world of motorsports is trying desperately to keep up with.

Nicolas Perrinn wants to ride this electronic wave: “We haven’t set out to change the sport, but the way to get our project out there is by doing the opposite of what everybody else does. Our plan is very unorthodox because motorsport never shares anything; it always hides everything away. It's not going to happen on day one because these things take time to take off, but our ultimate goal is to achieve success at Le Mans.”

The ex-Williams F1 and Courage engineer has laid out an internet-age plan that will make many of the ‘old guard’ owners faint: open source racing. Under the name of ‘myTeam’ the confident Frenchman’s Yorkshire based outfit have embraced an ambitious philosophy:

“People will have access to the entire database for free; they’ll be able to follow the team from behind the curtain. They’ll get insight into our designs and strategies and will be able to influence them as well.”

Insight is putting it mildly. Anybody can visit the myTeam website, download all of the data and design files, load them up in a CAD package and have a look around. Perinn goes further: “People who are a bit more technical can also suggest improvements for the car design itself. We've already got people sending back modifications and suggestions on how to make the car lighter or stronger; bit by bit the fans are helping us to improve.”

Perrinn Dunlop Bridge

“We’re also doing something a bit like those TV programmes that do public voting,” he says, one reassuring step away from suggesting he’s basing a racing team around the X-Factor, “People will be able to interact with us live on their smartphones and computers, and they will have the ability to give their opinion on what we should do; for example they'll be able to say with one click that it’s raining at a corner, so there’ll be even more information than we can access from a weather station.”

All very laudable and progressive, but there’s an ulterior motive to all of this fan engagement; where teams traditionally rely on success to attract sponsors, myTeam is going directly to the public. The hope is that they will be able to build an army of avid followers via things like Twitter and Facebook, and that once this is done myTeam will be an appealing prospect to potential money:

“Our audience is how we get sponsors so we need it to be as big as possible. We want to reach the young generation and give them control, then we want them to get their hands on it and have an impact.”

One tactic is to entice lucrative introductions from fans by promising the release of more technical design files once sponsors are introduced; a kind of carrot-dangling gamble that bypasses the established sponsorship mechanisms. As with all innovations, it remains to be seen whether myTeam’s plan will be as successful as it is grand when it’s unleashed onto the real world.

So what of the risks associated with such a strategy? myTeam’s stated aim is to take two LMP1-H cars to the famous day-long race in 2015 and win it within five years. To do that they’ll have to beat some of the best in the business: Porsche, Audi and Toyota, all of whom are extremely secretive about their prototype racers.

Toyota Racing will only unveil their new-for 2014 model, the TS040, at the World Endurance Championship’s pre-season test at Paul Ricard. Their technical director Pascal Vasselon, Perrinn’s compatriot and potential competitor, lays out the logic of secrecy:

Toyota blanked

“Patents do not apply in motorsport; there’s no legal way to protect your IP (intellectual property) so the only solution is to keep it secret. A design which provides a competitive advantage will always be copied sooner or later, but secrecy helps to delay this moment and allows a team to capitalise on the advantage gained for longer.”

“If clever ideas are found that are within the regulations then secrecy becomes even more important; Toyota were one of the teams that developed the double-diffuser in 2009, and if other teams had seen the concept earlier they could have adopted it sooner.”

While Perrinn claims to have already rumbled both Porsche and Audi downloading myTeam’s designs, it would be illogical to think that an established giant would be worried about a small group of blue-sky privateers. But if myTeam achieve their goal of being competitive within five years, how would they react then? If there is a future where established teams crib ideas from him, then Perrinn shows little concern:

“Even if you know exactly what somebody else is doing it won’t influence the way that you work because everybody has their own way of doing things. The fact is that the source is always one step ahead of the rest, and if they copied part of our car… to be honest I think we’d just take it as an endorsement of our work.”

Vassellon agrees: “Spying is the most common sport within motorsport but it's much more complex than simply seeing a competitor’s part and copying it. Just because you see a design or read the data doesn’t mean you can understand it correctly; that’s why teams usually prefer to rely on their own ideas and the competence of its own people.” It seems then that unless myTeam come up with the new zeitgeist technology their competitors won’t be too fussed… but then they would say that.

Perrinn 3D print

Enough of the future though; at the moment myTeam are at a crucial stage in their plans. The assault on social media is coming good but now they need some sponsors on board; without money the project stalls. The next step is myTour 2014: not a lads holiday to Magaluf as the name would suggest but a profile-boosting road trip with a show car visiting London, Le Mans and parts of Europe.

The cynics among us will be forgiven for not putting much store in a plan that goes against so much of the grade, but from speaking to him it’s clear that Nicolas Perrinn’s obvious drive and quiet belief in his project could be enough to give myTeam the best chance it has:

“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the consequences of what we're going to do because it's a big game changer; we want the people to take ownership of the team. Racing with the manufacturers will be a big task, but we’d like to think that after those five years we’ll be in a position to win the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

Taking two homebrew prototypes from a computer in Skipton to the Circuit de la Sarthe, then trying to beat the big German guns at the top of their game? A big task indeed, but it’s hard to fight the underdog-loving hope that myTeam might be able to deliver. Nothing ventured is nothing gained, and all that.

(Photos copyright Perrinn myTeam and Toyota GMBH)

Jamie Snelling is a WEC-accredited freelance motorsport journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran. You can find him on Twitter at @speedchillsview

Good times are afoot for fans of endurance racing. The World Endurance Championship is enjoying a meteoric rise, works teams are flocking to take a bite of the apple and young driving talents are pursuing sports cars as an alternative to a Formula 1 that’s falling from grace. But despite all of this there’s only one thing that everybody’s talking about: the most successful endurance team of all time are coming back to grace our tarmac once again.

Porsche Paul Ricard

It’s been a long time since Porsche last fielded their own team at the top level of endurance. No matter the decades of dusty achievements that sit on the shelves at their Stuttgart fortress, this is a new look outfit with the future in mind and an eagerness to win on their own terms.

Neel Jani is one of the men charged with taking the fight to the modern prototype establishment. After impressing during a four year stint with the Anglo-Swiss Rebellion Racing team he’s been snapped up for a shot at the big prize, and it’s clear he’s not taking the chance lightly:

“Porsche is a big name, but they’ve come back after sixteen years away. Everything is new; new people, new drivers, everything is from scratch because it's a whole new team. But in the end we all want to win, everybody wants to win.”

The scale of the programme goes some way to proving how seriously Porsche are taking their return. This isn’t just a marketing exercise; the car has spent three years in development and a pile of money has been spent on hiring the best engineering, management and driver talent that the marketplace can offer.

Neel seems almost daunted by being such an integral part of a project of this size: “At Rebellion the people were always the same and it was an exercise in seeing what we could achieve with relatively little; the engine guy sat next to the race engineer and there was no point in asking aero questions because there were no aero options, you had to use what you had.”

“Now I’m in a team with over 200 people and it’s not so easy to find an overview and to know all the boys by name, like who do I have to talk to if I have a question about the hybrid system or the bite point of the clutch pedal. The race engineer is the first person to talk to but then there are so many departments that you have to follow up with if you want to know exactly how things work.”

Making a team of this size an effective, cohesive unit is one of the main challenges. Whereas Audi and Toyota have had, respectively, many and two years to iron out the issues inherent in getting hundreds of people to work well together, Porsche are just starting out on the journey:

Porsche Neel Discussion

“Everyone has issues and it’s about how quickly you can solve them. Having a team that works is a big task for us for this year; our competition will have solved most of the issues that we maybe still need to, and so we have to be realistic about our chances.”

That realism will be another of Porsche’s big tasks for 2014, especially when they could quite easily be tempted into riding the wave of fan expectation that’s sure to come their way. Three years of development is a strong starting position but engineers need the kind of tasty data that can only be gleaned from race situations; endless running around the Weissach test track just won’t cut it.

Or will it? Coming off the back of an unexpectedly successful test at the WEC’s Prologue event at Paul Ricard the whispers have been going around that Porsche are more competitive than they have a right to be. So should we be realistic or excited when we turn up to the first round in a few days time?

“We really weren’t expecting to be that quick at Le Castellet but we don’t know how much the others were playing. We know Audi ran a lot of aero because they were massively quick in the last sector, so we know they didn’t show their full potential, and we don’t know what Toyota did or didn’t show.”

“The track definitely favoured our car concept because we had a good top speed down the big Mistral straight compared to the others. But nevertheless we were there, we were playing around, we were being competitive and, along with finishing races, that’s the aim of this year.”

The top speed of the 919 Hybrid was a hot topic at the Prologue, and with the power figures coming out of the factories it’s not hard to see why. Audi have just announced that their four litre V6 produces 767hp and Toyota have made big waves with their claim of 1000, but Porsche are keeping quiet. Mind you, when the rumour mill churns out suspected figures of 1250hp it’s difficult to stop petrolheads breaking into a grin.

But if you went down to Brands Hatch on a weekend you’d see drivers struggling to cope with a fifth of that kind of grunt, so how does Neel handle it? “I’ve had a lot of petrol power in the past with Formula 1 and Champ Car but this is something new and interesting for me, especially as all the hybrid power is going through the front axle.”

“In terms of acceleration it’s the most impressive I’ve felt, it’s amazing when it really kicks in. It’s quite special to blast past the Rebellion, I can say ‘yes, I’m finally in that car that I was dreaming of for so long’.”

Dreaming aside, this kind of attitude bodes well for Porsche. It’s clear that finding the right balance between realism and enthusiasm could make or break their 2014, and if Neel is anything to go by then they’ve pitched it just right:

“We hope to be challenging as soon as possible; as a driver I hope it’ll be at Silverstone. But we have to be realistic, we can’t just think we can turn up and kick everyone’s arse! There are a lot of things that we don’t fully understand or control yet so for us it’s all about reliability. Once we’ve sorted that out, the pace will come to us.”

“We’d like to take the challenge to Audi and Toyota but they’re the favourites, we’re the ones who need to prove that we deserve to be there. We don’t know who’s quickest, but at the test we learned that we’re actually in the mix, and we’re competitive. We won’t be on their tails at every race, but Porsche has ramped up a massive programme, and the intentions are clear.”

As he says, everybody wants to win. Porsche, Audi and Toyota have got less than a week before the cards will be laid bare on the tarmac of a windy Northamptonshire airfield, and the excitement is growing. The German endurance legends are back, and whether you consider them underdogs or returning champions you’re in for a treat. Roll on the Silverstone Six Hours, we can’t wait to find out what they’ve got in store for us.

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him at @speedchillsview

Today saw the first track action of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship as the 29-strong field took to the Silverstone tarmac in two 90 minute practice sessions. As with all practice times you can’t really draw too many conclusions; we don’t know who was showing their full hand, but we did make a few notes on what’s been significant over the day.

Silverstone Audi Pit

The first thing that stands out is just how close the big prototype battle appears to be; Audi, Porsche and Toyota have all put in a lot similar looking times and a picture is beginning to emerge of what the eight race season might have in store for us.

There were worries that Audi might have shot themselves in the foot with their choice of using less hybrid grunt but their pace has been as ominously good as usual. Porsche have impressed too with the rumoured reliability issues being nowhere to be seen, so the ‘Most Competitive Prototype Battle for 20 Years’ is odds on to live up to its name.

A swift round of applause should go to Rebellion Racing with their ageing Lola-Toyotas wheezing round the track but setting some very impressive times. All of the LMP1-H entries are brand new cars and could suffer from reliability issues, so there’s an outside chance that the venerable old Lolas could end up punching above their weight.

The GTE field is close too, mainly due to the WEC getting rid of the rule that forced Am teams to use cars that were at least a year old. Now that the playing field is slightly more level it’s going to be down to the drivers to make the difference between the two classes, and we’ve already seen a couple of the ‘gentleman drivers’ higher up the order than they were last year.

Here’s one for the most British of you; privateers Ram Racing are performing their ‘plucky underdog’ role rather well. The impressive Pro team of Alvaro Parente and Matt Griffin have been banging in the laps and taking it to the factory teams, even beating their AF Corse counterparts in second practice. 2013 was all about the manufacturers in Pro, it’s good to see the formula being shaken up a bit for this year.

Finally, and probably most intriguingly, the talk at the track is all about what the sky might be doing come Sunday afternoon. With rain forecasted for a large chunk of the race nobody really knows whether or not to make any conclusions in the run up; for example Aston’s uncharacteristically poor pace has been variably put down to rain prep, sandbagging and poor set up.

It’s all leading to an unpredictable start to the 2014 WEC, which is just what we were all crossing our fingers for when the new rules were announced so long ago. Stay tuned to Speed Chills for all the run-up and race action, and keep your eyes peeled when the lights go out at midday on Sunday.

A few days ago Nissan took over London’s trendiest district to unveil the worst-kept secret in sports car racing: a full on, two car, factory LMP1 entry for Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship. But this wasn’t just another launch; the Japanese giant was out to prove that it means business.

NISSAN GT-R LMP1 small

There was a bar, leather wingback chairs and a DJ spinning thumping electro tunes; it certainly wasn’t anything we’d seen in the WEC before. Various heads of Nissan were roaming around, beers in hands, chatting amiably to the gathered guests and press.

Outside there was Sir Chris Hoy’s GT-R GT3, the bonkers ZEOD RC and a big wooden crate that sported glowing claw slashes and made loud growling noises every now and then. The message was clear, even to the people wandering past the big, taloned, Nissan-red footprints outside the old Shoreditch brewery: they’re here to Eat, Sleep, Race and Repeat, monster style.

When the lights dimmed inside Nissan Executive V-P Andy Palmer made a speech that wouldn’t have been out of place over the wireless in 1939: “When we go racing, we do so differently. We won’t be turning up in a vehicle which is a basically another hybrid that looks like another Porsche, Audi or Toyota - they all look the same to me - our intention is to do something that is a little bit different.”

The difference, apparently, should be immediately obvious. The car wasn’t shown and we shouldn’t expect that until they go testing in October, but with the GT-R badge involved it’s a safe bet that there’ll be a showing from the round rear lights and cut out front grille that the road, GT3 and Super GT versions all feature.

Palmer bombarded the audience with promises of technical innovation. He repeatedly pointed out that the WEC allows for different cars to take different directions and compete on the same piece of tarmac; if you thought that the current three had covered all of the technological bases, he implied, you need to guess again.

The rhetoric continued on: “Audi, Porsche, Toyota: we’re coming to rain on your parade and spoil your party”. In that action of lumping together three of the most legendary marques in sports car racing, Palmer showed just how little Nissan care about the establishment. He carries on, an intense and slightly mad glare in his eyes: “To be frank, what we want to be is a bad boy”. That’s not something you’d ever hear coming out of Germany.

No, Germany would’ve given us a rigid press conference in a gleaming new building, or men with nametags slowly shuffling around a grouping of round tables in a room full of heritage. Everything about Nissan’s effort pointed towards a different attitude towards going prototype racing, far removed from the quiet efficiency and tight PR of the established manufacturers.

It was exactly what Nissan needed to do to stand out. With their involvement we’re now lucky enough to have four competitors lining up for the WEC in 2015, so a prominent team name and a white prototype just isn’t going to cut it in the heat of battle any more. In the act of making it us vs. them, the clear aggression exhibited by the speeches, the videos and the big wooden crate, Nissan were showing the world that they think they can change the status quo.

But could they be getting slightly ahead of themselves? They’ve not even unveiled the car yet and they’re already issuing challenges: the quip about not being there ‘for a nice marketing sideshow’ could be seen as a dig at Audi’s massive promotional machine, and the promise that their car will have ‘DNA rooted in Japan’ is a clear wink at Toyota being based in Cologne.

It’s ballsy stuff, but it sets them up for a massive fall if they fail to deliver. And as for the claim that they want to go to Le Mans and win against the might and money of Audi, Toyota and Porsche within two years? We shouldn’t be so cynical as to write it off completely, but it does bear the whiff of the ‘cunning plan’ about it.

Whether or not Nissan are competitive straight away, and whether or not they bring us the revolution that they’ve promised, the main news is this: come next year we’ll have eight cars from four different global superpowers at the front of the grid in the WEC and at Le Mans. No matter how they spin it, that’s an exciting prospect for any motor sport fan.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sport journalist and ten-time Speed Chills veteran.

The #2 Audi Sport R18 e-tron Quattro of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer took a late victory today in one of the most amazing races ever seen at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Coming through weather, danger and stiff competition, the new-for-2014 car sealed a hard fought and unexpected win for the returning endurance champions.

IMG 7315

It was barely an hour and a half into the race that the French weather decided it needed to have a say in the 82nd running of the great race. A reported drizzle at Tertre Rouge quickly turned into first a downpour and then a monsoon, and the clouds didn’t care who they struck. Within moments of the Mulsanne River forming the grainy footage flashed onto the screens; a hobbled Toyota, a broken Ferrari and a shattered Audi.

Marco Bonanomi thumped his fists against the steering wheel of his #3 Audi to no avail and Sam Bird had similarly few options in his 458, but an eighteen point turn found Nicolas Lapierre gliding his now front-stunted #8 to the pits.

When the Safety Cars cleared there emerged a Porsche in the lead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. A second rainstorm brought some more havoc, affecting a number of GT and LMP2 cars, but the classes began to descend into their respective battles nonetheless.

Corvettes tried to outmuscle Ferraris, Astons growled behind Porsches, places swapped and swapped again as factories vied for the early honours. At the front Stephane Sarrazin was drawing out a lead from Andre Lotterer’s #2 Audi, it was all going to plan.

The Ligiers were quietly outperforming all expectation at the head of the LMP2 class, with two of the brand new coupes challenging for the class lead and fighting among themselves despite never having raced before. The Alpine A450b in striking blue and orange seemed to be the only car that could challenge them, with the silver-rated French driver Paul-loup Chatin punching well above his weight.

It was almost a shame, therefore, that Jann Mardenborough was lighting up the timing screens and putting in what would become the drive of the race. The kid from Cardiff who had graduated from his sofa to the track via a Playstation was unstoppable; barely a lap went by without there being a blue ‘personal best’ next to his name.

Back up at the front it was still the #7 Toyota in the lead and pulling away from the #2 Audi, but some intermittent power problems started to drop ‘Mr. Le Mans’ Tom Kristensen back into the clutches of the #20 Porsche. When the #1 was finally backed into the garage with a dodgy fuel injector, the 919 Hybrid moved up into a podium slot.

Meanwhile the sister #14 was heading in the other direction, slow on the Mulsanne Straight and the cause of gasps and winces around the track as flying prototypes and tourers narrowly avoided it. Back to the garage by electrical power alone, the engineers quickly set to work.

The race softened as we reached the halfway mark. The GTE Pro battle continued to flow one way then the other with driver changes having little effect on the even match that the class seemed to have.

A couple of minor issues for the Corvettes put them out of the class lead battle but Darren Turner and Giancarlo Fisichella took up the slack, pitting their national pride against each other in a battle that was infinitely more thrilling than the one happening between the same countries in Brazil.

IMG 6855

In the GTE Am class it was a much more dominant affair with both Aston Martins streaking off into the distance and away from a scrappy field of Ferraris and Porsches. The two looked to be on for a one-two until a power steering pipe blew off the #98 Vantage V8 of Lamy, Dalla Lana and Nygaard, dropping them out of contention.

And then the racing gods gave the race a kick which set off an avalanche, starting with a catastrophic failure of the electronics in the race leading #7 Toyota. The fans went from heavy-lidded to standing and shouting in a matter of seconds as the strangely inconclusive nighttime camera work slowly revealed that the favourite had just stopped of its own accord.

A flabbergasted Toyota team stood mute in the garage while Kazuki Nakajima tried to fix the issue, but when something as complicated as an LMP1-H fries its wiring no single man can hope to coax it back to life.

Benoit Treluyer probably couldn’t believe his luck as he passed a stationary blue and white hybrid prototype, and neither could Brendon Hartley or Lucas di Grassi as they moved their #20 Porsche and #1 Audi up into second and third respectively.

The Porsches began to show signs of wear with both repeatedly losing braking effectiveness under very heavy stops at Mulsanne and Arnage Corners. In the junior prototype class Mardenborough seemed to have been glued into his P2 leading Ligier, continuing to circulate at formidable pace. Neither the Alpine or the Thiriet Ligier got the message though, and they picked up the pace with an eye on the win.

Day broke as the GTE Pro battle refused to. Turner vs. Bruni, Muecke vs. Fisichella, Senna vs. Vilander; the fight was fair but frequent and full on until the old power steering ghouls emerged in the Aston. The #97 was wheeled into the garage, and the #51 AF Corse was left to soak up the atmosphere on its way to victory.

Audi sensed a win on the cards but their new e-tron Quattros had some curveballs to throw yet. First the #2 developed a turbo problem, drastically losing out on power and having to dive into the pits to fit a new one. As per the German endurance behemoths’ record, it was swapped and back out within 15 minutes.

This allowed the #1 into the lead, an enormous feat considering they’d rebuilt the car twice in the preceding few days. It was only sweet for a moment however as the previous year’s winners succumbed to the same turbo problems as their teammates. This time the swap was a little slower: 17 minutes to swap a turbo. After all, Audi don’t do ‘problems’.

And so we were left with three hours to go and a freshly installed Mark Webber leading the race in a Porsche. The flocks of fans arriving at the grandstands started to really believe that the returning Porsche dream could be real.

They reckoned without two things: the pace of Andre Lotterer and the heartbreaking nature of the Circuit de La Sarthe. The now three-time winner was fixated on the rear of the 919 and was relentless in his pace, so when he finally handed over to Benoit Treluyer we were looking forward to a game of endurance chess between two of the sport’s greats.

And then the TV screens flashed up an image of a slow-motion Porsche. The picture flashed inside the car, and there was a damp-eyed Australian staring forlornly out of a Red Bull helmet. The footage continued as a dirty R18 swept past and off into the distance.

The #1 followed a little later, and then the #8 Toyota which had been driven almost to destruction by Ant Davidson, Seb Buemi and Lapierre. When the Porsche engineers downed their tools on both the #20 and the #14, the 16-time winners’ ‘Mission 2014’ was over.

IMG 7288

The race didn’t finish there as late problems for the G-Drive left them down in fifth after leading the majority of the P2 race, a desperate disappointment for the three drivers who had been flawless throughout the race. This left British ELMS stalwarts JOTA Sport to take the P2 victory after a race spent quietly pumping in the laps and staying out of trouble; theirs was a real endurance victory for a proper racing team.

The Thiriet Ligier finished second in class, confirming a superb debut for the chassis which hadn’t run competitively before this race. The Signatech-Alpine #36 claimed third mainly thanks to some superb personal drives from Chatin, Nelson Panciatici and Oli Webb.

AF Corse continued their superb form with the #51 taking the GTE Pro win, outlasting the best GT teams in the world to take another win at La Sarthe by more than a lap. It was a great debut for the new-to-Le Mans Corvette C7.R, finishing second of the Pros and a further lap ahead of the #92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR.

And it was an emotional victory for the Young Driver AMR Aston Martin crew, who 12 months ago had been mourning the loss of the hugely talented Allan Simonsen. They dominated the GTE Am class as they had promised to do in 2013, and this victory will provide the most fitting of tributes.

But after 24 Hours of promised stories, desperate moments and shock it was an eerily inevitable 13th win for the team with the four rings. In a nice final touch the two remaining R18s formed up ahead of the #14 Porsche - which had been brought out for one final lap - and crossed the line as a threesome.

It was a clear sign from Audi: ‘We are Le Mans, we earned our place here. If you want it, you’ll have to beat us, and we are the best.’ When everyone else falls by the wayside, Audi are there, winning. Are they immovable? Probably not. Will it take some magic to move them? Almost certainly. 2015 will be another step up as yet another marque takes up the challenge, but as they’ve proved over the last 24 hours, they’re the only ones to beat.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motorsports journalist and 10-time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @SpeedChillsView

It’s a safe bet that - seeing as you’ve arrived at speedchills.com and are thus a proper racing fan - you spent Monday 16th June either asleep at your desk or nursing a giant hangover on a ferry bound for England.

Porsche 20 Le Mans

It’s been three whole months since then though, a sensible recovery period for an event like the 24. Happily, we’re just in time for a five race, twelve week World Endurance Championship barrage.

The silver lining of a WEC-less July and August is that we’re about to crash into a truly hectic end to the season. Starting in the USA next weekend and travelling to Brazil via Japan, China and Bahrain, the world’s premier endurance series is getting ready to drag us by our collars right through to the end of the year.

So, what do we have to look forward to over the next 30 hours of proper endurance action? Here’s Speed Chills’ quick guide:


Lone Star Le Mans - 18th-20th September

We’re supposed to be calling it ‘Lone Star Le Mans’ now, and the first race back promises to be as suitably XXXL, acronym-ish and American as the name change suggests. The into-the-night WEC race is part of a double header with the COTA round of the TUSCC (the mutant offspring of the old Grand-Am and ALMS series), which means we’ll be getting two top races on the same day.

The 2h 45m TUSCC race starts at half 5 in the afternoon UK time before the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas kicks off an hour before midnight - which means that we can legitimately pull a racing all-nighter - beer optional but recommended.


6 Hours of Fuji - 10th-12th October

Last year’s race in the shadow of Mount Fuji promised to be a classic, right up until the gods flipped us the Vs and sent in the deluge. As it happened the 2013 6 Hours of Fuji ended up being one of the more memorable races in the WEC’s history so far with pizza box boat races down the pit lane and Aston Martin’s cardboard racing fish (us neither…), but it was disappointing to be deprived of a proper race.

The WEC returns to Fuji with fingers and toes crossed for more clement weather, and Toyota will be hoping that they can pull off another victory at their home race. Hopefully this time the 3am wake up call will be followed by something more interesting than the 6 hours of puddles and sodden Japanese fans.

6 Hours of Shanghai - 31st October - 2nd November

The Chinese round was a definite highlight of the 2013 season with the Shanghai circuit proving its credentials as a proper challenge for the endurance racing circus. 2014 should be no different with the notorious, ever-tightening Turn One and the hugely fast back straight making an enticing proposition for both prototypes and GTs to sink their teeth into.

Like Japan the 6 Hours of Shanghai will be an early start for us UK fans with a roughly 3am start. Stock up on good, British tea and biscuits.


6 Hours of Bahrain - 13th-15th November

Last year’s season finale moves up a slot to become the penultimate race of 2014, which considering the crowds garnered can only be a good thing. Despite this the Sakhir circuit seems to always provide a decent challenge and the high temperatures will be a tough test. The time difference to Bahrain is pretty slim and the race goes into the dark, so it’s another opportunity for an evening with racing, mates and beer.


6 Hours of Sao Paulo - 28th-30th November

Making the move from first-race-back to season closer, the 6 Hour showdown at the famous Interlagos track will be a fitting send off for the 2014 World Endurance Championship. The Autódromo José Carlos Pace always throws up a couple of curve balls (who can forget the innovative Audi wheel retrieval system!), and the evening race time along with the overall champagne-crown will make this the race not to miss.

Lotus LMP1

And what can we expect from the teams? Well, Lone Star Le Mans will be our first opportunity to see how the mid-season testing has affected the relative performances of the big factory prototype teams; Toyota have dominated the 6 hour format so far but Porsche and Audi have spent three months putting in lap after lap, so expect the next few races to be a slightly closer affair.

This raises an exciting prospect: the first Porsche win in more than a decade could be on the cards, and with the driver lineups on offer it’s surely just a matter of time. LMP1-L should be a mite more interesting too with Lotus’ brand new car debuting in Austin to take on the already-improving Rebellions.

LMP2 is also looking a bit rosier than before with guest entries already slated for a few of the remaining races and the eagerly anticipated Strakka-Dome due to make its first appearance in Brazil. G-Drive have upgraded to the new Ligier which confounded expectations on its Le Mans debut, and the ever-impressive bevy of young drivers spilling out of the class will give us something to keep an eye on.

The GTE classes, of course, will be as exciting as always. The Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin pros might be a little less balanced than in 2013 but that doesn’t mean any less paint will be traded, and the varying degrees of talent in the Am ranks will surely throw up the usual mix of stunning performances and cringe-inducing moments.

Overall, we’ve got a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Proper endurance racing is back in a big way, with more than a whole day’s worth of racing still to come and a truck load of unknowns still to play out.

Nobody does big, brash spectacle quite like the Americans. Whether it’s Superbowl halftime shows, Oscars awards parties or 72oz steak challenges (Rule 6 - “Should you become ill… please use the container as necessary”), our cousins across the pond know how to put on a performance.

COTA Dawn

World class endurance racing returns to Austin’s Circuit of the Americas next weekend with a fresh take on 2013’s multi-series format; a double headlined event featuring both the globe trotting WEC and the newly formed, US based Tudor United Sportscar Championship.

But that’s where the similarities end and the big changes begin. Last year’s spectator-light affair has been thumped with the Yank hammer and reforged into ‘Lone Star Le Mans’, a name that according to the organisers ‘reflects the spirit of Le Mans in the Lone Star State of Texas’.

And whereas 2013’s two races were split evenly across the weekend this year’s edition has them jammed into a single day, with the 6 hour WEC finale running deep into the night.

It’s a hectic schedule, and when combined with a massive, mid race fireworks display, armadillo racing (no, really) and performances from Blue Öyster Cult, Mike Barfield and Wayne ‘the Train’ Hancock (whose ‘reckless honky tonk’ can move the dead, allegedly) it looks set to be a proper all-American hoedown.

But the big news, as Speed Chills elaborated on earlier this week, is the Return of the WEC after a three month break. This will be the first time we get to see the field in action since the Le Mans 24 Hours concluded the European leg of the season, which means that we could be looking forward to a whole new ball game in Austin.

Porsche in particular have been keen to tell everybody how much testing, improving and retesting they’ve been doing since they returned trophyless from Le Sarthe. Podiums in the first two rounds at Silverstone and Spa showed the world that the returning legends mean business, so expect them to have made some considerable progress.

Neither Audi or Toyota have been sitting contentedly on their respective laurels though. The Japanese team from Cologne may have had a frustrating time at the 24 after a crash and an electronic failure left their chances scuppered, but the new TS040s have been almost unchallenged in the 6 hour races so far and their newly rejigged driver line ups are working well.

And it says a lot about this season that Audi are now thought of as contestants rather than shoo-ins. After their decade long domination the German modern endurance behemoths are starting to find that they can’t just rely on reliability any more - Le Mans victory notwithstanding - so they’ve been putting in the laps too and the R18 e-tron Quattro has a good chance at the podium.

Outside of the big manufacturer mix up we finally have something a bit more tantalising in the new-for-2014 LMP1-L class with Lotus debuting their brand new CLM P1/01. The Romanian team will be the first to challenge Rebellion’s brace of R-Ones that first raced back in Spa, and we can’t expect too much of such a new chassis but the opportunity is there for a shock performance.

10291091 733046253433743 6059134850250805976 n

The SMP Racing Oreca of Viktor Shaitar and the Ladygin brothers currently leads the LMP2 championship after registering the WEC entries’ sole finish at Le Mans, but victories in Silverstone and Spa for G-Drive Racing mean it’s currently a two horse race for the top, with KCMG still in with a shout and the second SMP nowhere to be seen.

And while P2 may have been a bit threadbare so far in 2014 the 6 hours of Circuit of the Americas is due to change it up a bit with the introduction of TUSCC team Extreme Speed Motorsport. Though they're only having a one-off go with this race (with a possible full season entry in mind for the future) we’re now up to five entries which looks slightly more respectable.

However, the question every fan is asking is how much of an impact ESM can make. With acres of experience in the TUSCC and ALMS and an experienced team in Sharp, Dalziel and Brown the tequila sponsored HPD could be in a position to dole out some serious embarrassment to the world championship teams.

There’s a similar story on the cards in GTE Pro too, with Corvette Racing finally making their return to the top level series. They’re also here for a ‘one-off’ but rumours are swirling about a full season return in 2016. The fans definitely want it, so Corvette Racing could be making their preliminary assessments in Austin.

They’ve got a lot to deal with though, in the form of factory GT teams from AF Corse, Aston Martin and Porsche. These four greats came together in France in June and gave us an astonishing display, with most of the cars heading the field at one point or another.

That contest ended in another win for the ever excellent 458 Italia of Bruni, Fisichella and Vilander who now top the championship table. The two 911 RSRs and #97 Aston aren’t far behind however, and if 2013 is anything to go by the Pros will be battling right up until the chequered flag.

GTE Am is altogether quite different. The WEC's gentleman drivers cover the whole spectrum of talent ranging from ‘possible liability’ to ‘should probably have been a prototype champion’, and of the current entries it’s the #95 V8 Vantage ‘Dane Train’ that has eked out a healthy lead.

But when they do manage to stay on the track the Ams give us a good show with notable efforts from both AF Corse and Proton Competition keeping the championship alive. Krohn Racing are back for one race and will be hoping to run well at their home track while 8 Star and Prospeed will be looking to get some decent points on the board going into the second half of the season.

COTA is one of those rare animals: a modern track that encourages great racing with its combination of high speed sweeps, hairpin turns and long, undulating straights coming together to provide a tough challenge to both experienced and amateur drivers.

2013-6-Heures-du-Circuit-des-Ameriques-6H-02113809-593.JPG hd

The challenge will be even harder this year as the cars catapult through the first corner and into darkness. With bright flashes, loud bangs and country and western readily on offer to give the racers a healthy, Texan distraction, Lone Star Le Mans will be bringing that big, brash spectacle right to the heart of the World Endurance Championship.

The race weekend starts on Friday with the usual separate qualifying sessions; 6pm local for the GTs and 6.35 for the prototypes (that’s midnight and 00.35 for us Brits) while the race kicks off at 5pm on Saturday.

The UK’s club racing scene is a jewel in the country’s motor sport crown, something that thousands take part in for both the racing and the atmosphere. Lazing under the sunshine in a leafy Oulton Park while racing Minis fly past, it's hard to resist the urge to crack open a beer and slap a few sausages on the tiny gas barbecue.

Swiftune Mini

Sitting a few feet away - in a comfortable camp chair that looks like it’s come from Area 51 - is Aston Martin Racing legend Darren Turner. Twice a class winner at Le Mans and still to be found bothering the top of the World Endurance Championship timesheets, Darren is an experienced racer at the top of his game.

Which makes it all the more exciting that he’s here to race a tiny, fifty year old national institution: “When I get in the Aston I see the emblem and think ‘this is pretty cool’," he says, confirming everybody's suspicions, "I like driving the stuff I race and I love doing the world championship and everything else, but doing something like this always brings it back to driving purely for the fun of driving.”

For him this is a day off, but contrary to the racing ace models/yachts stereotype Darren is mucking in with the grassroots, running around under collapsible awnings and eating greasy bacon rolls fresh off the griddle.

For this Mini Festival event he’s driving tuning-pro Nick Swift’s ‘pre-66’ with its 1278cc engine and ‘understated green with white stripe’ paint job. It’s somewhat different to the usual runaround he gets to drive at the weekends; 3.4l and four fewer cylinders to be precise, but does he care about the deficit?

“There's nothing that you do in this car that's even slightly similar to driving a GTE,” he says, starting to tick off performance aspects on his fingers, “there's no grip, there's no downforce, there's no power, there's no brakes, there's no anything of anything but they're still brilliant to drive around.”

“The Minis are pocket rockets, they just want to be played with all the time like naughty little puppies! Considering they were designed in the '50s they're still potent little things, especially around the shorter circuits and in wet conditions.”

“They don't bite, whatever angle you get them at they seem to come back... to a point. They’re just manic bits of kit. It might look like we're throwing them around but really it's all about being neat and carrying speed through the corner, and the less speed you scrub off the more momentum you carry down the next straight. It’s a bit like going indoor karting.”

13965664726 e867322355 k

With hundreds of amateur racers milling around the paddock the connection to karting feels that little bit more potent; as Turner says this is where he and his professional colleagues started out in their careers: “This all takes me back to travelling around in a transit with my dad. You’d rock up on the day, do your bit and then go home happy after a good day’s racing.”

“All of this is the mainstay of our sport; if all the manufacturers pulled out of racing this is what we'd revert back to. Obviously as you go up the ladder you get spoilt and you get to drive amazing cars around amazing circuits but the reality is that we all started at this level if not lower. The only difference is that we've managed to break through and go to another level.“

Would he class himself as a bit of a ringer, then? “These guys are specialists, they race these Minis all the time so I’m just glad to at least be on the pace. If I get a bit more out of the car then so be it but I’m not here to spoil the show!”

“If there was a championship at play and I was interfering with their fight then I'd move out of the way and let them get on with it. I’m here to enjoy myself, it’s a day for me to just do what I want to do and I’ve not really got anything to prove.”

Nothing to prove maybe, but Turner clearly relishes the racing. Watching his second outing of the day from a rickety wooden stand that affords good views of Cascades, Hislops and the Lakeside and Hilltop Straights it’s easy to see that his competitive spirit can’t really be quashed; after a few laps it’s easier to measure the gap back to the chasing pack in corners rather than seconds.

Darren wins both of the ‘Kent Cams Cup’ races in the one day event, the winners caps being proudly displayed on top of the Swiftune-powered car while fans sporadically pop in for a chat. He looks happy and relaxed, he loves doing this stuff:

“If I wasn't paid to race I'd still do it, and when I do eventually stop getting paid to race I'll probably end up buying an old van and running an old car in some old championship. It's just what I want to do and if my family want to come along and have a barbecue and a few beers at night then that's what we'll do.”

“Ultimately I just enjoy driving race cars; just because I've turned it into a profession doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable afterwards. A lot of people say 'I'm not being paid any more, I'm not going to drive anything.’ but when my career is over I’ll be here doing stuff like this, just for the fun of it.”

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited freelance journalist and 10 time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @SpeedChillsView

The WEC went green for the first time in three months today as practice kicked for Saturday's 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas. Here’s what we managed to glean on day one:

IMG 8050

Audi look good, very good.

It was to be expected from the team who always quietly assert their dominance later in the season but it looks like they might have outdone even themselves.

That said, Porsche haven’t been idle either. Their pace was roughly half a second off their German counterparts’ but we can’t be sure how much of their hand they were showing. Also they sound like fighter jets under braking regeneration and this please us.

Toyota had a bit of an off session with steady times and a brief stint of Ant Davidson sitting stalled at pit exit. But considering how good they’ve been so far this season we expect them to be challenging come Saturday.

P2 is looking rather juicy with one-off entrants Extreme Speed Motorsports running a good chunk quicker than the rest of the 5-car field. The shiny new G-Drive Ligier also looks handy but the three Orecas - one for KCMG and two for SMP Racing - didn’t impress.

The GT ranks were topped by Aston Martin Racing with the Turner/Muecke car heading the Pros and the ‘Dane Train’ #95 leading the Ams. However considering how much glorious noise the Corvette made the blue and orange Brits weren’t the centre of attention.

Lotus made a steady start on their debut, putting in a few installation laps and taking stock of their pace. They ended the first session just behind the P2s which indicates that they’re being fairly sensible - good news for the LMP1-L stakes.

Finally, the pit wall is causing something of a hilarious problem. When Toyota had to come in to change a nose cone (nothing serious we believe) their mechanics had a good old time trying to slot it between the TUSCC’s pit tents. The wall will be taken down between races on Saturday but until then the WEC will just have to deal with it. Somebody call the Chuckle Brothers.

Audi Sport Team Joest picked up the pieces of a chaotic race into the Texan darkness tonight as the #2 team of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer took victory in the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas.

IMG 8529small

The race was dominated by a sudden downpour in the second hour of the race and the subsequent red flag it created, which threw the established order up into the air and turned a regulation competition into a recovery dogfight.

The start of the race was oblivious to the oncoming storm and was dominated largely by great pace from Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota. The Swiss swiftly built up an advantage and over the course of the hour slowly asserted his dominance with a succession of race-best purple times.

LMP2 saw G-Drive, KCMG and newcomers Extreme Speed Motorsports mixing it up in the early stages while the GTE Pro stalwarts the #97 Aston and #51 AF Corse sought each other out for their customary early-race ruckus. Meanwhile reports began to arrive of light rain at the far end of the circuit.

Richie Stanaway was busily racing ahead in his GTE Am Aston Martin, sweeping away the better-qualifying Prospeed Porsche and making his way through the ranks towards the tailpipes of his teammate Fernando Rees in the #99 Pro car.

But then the monsoon arrived, making its way progressively across the track and catching out both pros and amateurs with its impromptu lakes and rivers. Two Am Ferraris kicked off the chaos by beaching themselves at the end of the straight before both Toyotas and a number of others joined them.

Around the Circuit of the Americas the local fans could do nothing but accept being soaked to the bone but at least they were entertained by the balletic events on track; Mike Conway rescuing a slow motion pirouette to huge applause and Timo Bernhard somehow threading his 919 Hybrid through the eye of the stricken car needle.

The race was swiftly red-flagged, the conditions too perilous. It would be another hour before the clouds relented and the field could circulate again. Contention ensued when cars that had come into the pits were forced to wait until the safety car came back around, effectively rewarding those who had been off the track with a free lap on the timing screens.

Some were affected more than others with the Proton Porsche team wondering how they were suddenly leading while the one-off entered Corvette Racing C7R team were left two laps down and rather grumpy.

This left Audi to take up their standard-for-2014 position of lucky benefactors of others’ misfortune. Neel Jani’s Porsche was the only other car left on the lead lap, some way back but operating with renewed pace.

GT1A0811small

It was due to some relentless effort on Jani’s part that not long after this the #14 emerged into the lead. The sister car, with Mark Webber at the helm, couldn’t match him for speed and dropped out of the running for the podium.

LMP2 continued to thrill with close calls and minor contact between the leading cars, the G-Drive Ligier consistently quick but falling prey to a number of driver errors. SMP Racing capitalised on their luck, defending hard and leaving themselves in a good position going into the final two hours.

GTE Pro kicked off again as Toni Vilander discovered his 458 Italia was a bit of a dog in the soggy conditions. The Manthey Porsche duo found the opposite was happening to their 911 RSRs, and the order swapped around with Stefan Muecke left unaffected in the middle.

As the race entered its final hour it seemed that the #14 Porsche was on for a maiden victory, with the two Audis squabbling amongst themselves and the two Toyotas some way back in the distance.

But as Marc Lieb took over from Jani to bring the car home something went wrong under the engine cover, and when the stint’s lap times came filing in it showed a Porsche more than eight seconds off the pace.

The #14 faded back into the darkness as Audi calmly collected their fallen laurels, Marcel Fassler bringing the #2 over the line a full minute ahead of the #1. The #8 Toyota, so impressive at the start, was left to pick up a conciliatory third place.

Rebellion Racing weathered a difficult race to bring the #12 R-One home at the head of the three car LMP1-L pack, but an impressive showing from the brand new and relatively untested Lotus CLM P1/01 allowed them to finish the race and claim second as the #13 Rebellion retired.

Some strong final hour pace from the KCMG team allowed Tsugio Matsuda to cross the line first in class ahead of the #27 SMP Oreca and ESM HPD, who will be happy with a podium in their first ever WEC race.

As the track dried the balance of GTE Pro power shifted in Aston Martin’s direction, but the battle lasted right up until the wire with Patrick Pilet and Darren Turner swapping positions between stops. The Brit’s speed and defensive racecraft earned his team a hard fought win, with the #92 Porsche 2nd and #51 Ferrari third.

Despite a strong showing from Proton Competition it was to be an all Aston affair in GTE as the Am field passed the chequered flag, the two Vantage V8s separated by a second with the #98 positioned the better. The #88 Porsche did manage third however, a great result for a team still getting used to their new 911 RSR.

The second half of the World Endurance Championship season kicked off in fine style, and the circus now heads to Japan for the 6 Hours of Fuji. With Audi leading the manufacturers championship but the #8 Toyota drivers heading the drivers standing, there’s a lot to play for in the next four races. Stay tuned to speedchills.com for all of the latest news and views.

It’s possible that, in the coming years, the 2014 Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas may be remembered as the time when Extreme Speed Motorsports made their first steps toward a glittering international prototype career. Speed Chills View caught up with Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Ryan Dalziel ahead of their FIA World Endurance Championship debut to find out what the newest, greenest hopefuls are all about.

15300054362 75dff4fda5 z

On track they're hard to miss. Firstly there’s a name which bluntly states the overall objective: not just speed, EXTREME Speed. Then there are the two stealth-black HPD LMP2s that appear to have been rammed directly into a late ‘90s laser party.

Yes, on appearance alone the Floridian racing outfit appear as American as they come. Big, brash and balls out at every opportunity; yeehaw, y’all and all of that sort of thing.

But dismiss them at your own risk, because despite having been racing for just five years they’re already one of the most influential teams in US endurance, and now they're eyeing up a role on the world's stage.

Case in point: in Texas recently for ‘Lone Star Le Mans’ - we’re still getting used to calling it that - the media was called to an unscheduled press conference; a sure fire way to get the hacks interested.

In the conference room Scott Sharp and Ed Brown, proudly sporting ESM's green and black Tequila Patrón livery, sat comfortably behind a desk made for nine and announced the surprise confirmation of their entry into the 6 Hours of Shanghai in November.

“What an incredible opportunity and next step to take Tequila Patrón and ESM to Shanghai and race against the top P2 cars in the world,” said driver and team principal Sharp, “It’s exciting for the team and it should be a great experience for us.”

Brown continued: "We’re committed to going to Le Mans next year. If we truly want to be competitive at Le Mans or any other WEC race, we need to get our hands around the series and regulations at one of the most demanding locations."

This was good news - fresh blood is currently very welcome in the WEC's competition-starved LMP2 class. The team had already made their intentions on the Le Sarthe crown clear, and here they were proving that with nine months still to go they’re already getting ready for it. Wise heads nodded approvingly.

But then came an arguably even more potent piece of news: “Racing is expensive, and because of that we’ll park the cars for Petit Le Mans and not run the final race of the TUDOR Championship series so we can set up the cars for Shanghai.”

"By all means, we’re going to be racing in the United States next year, but we felt that this was important to set us up for the goals that we’ve set."

15113665299 7c357b47c7 z

Missing the final round of America’s premier endurance series is a big move, but a bit of background is required to understand the full juiciness of this statement and what it might mean for those ‘goals’.

Brown isn’t just a keen racing driver, he’s also CEO of The Patrón Spirits Company, official ‘spirits partner’ of both TUSCC and governing body IMSA as well as title sponsor of the North American Endurance Cup which counts Road Atlanta's much-loved 'Petit' as its final round.

Appearing in China - whose burgeoning economy presents a lucrative challenge for many expanding businesses - makes sense both competitively and commercially, and for a global brand like Patrón the international exposure of the WEC will be an enticing prospect.

But the coffers aren't limitless, and while Sharp confirmed that ESM would be taking part in next year’s Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup questions were immediately raised about where the team would be focussing their racing efforts in 2015. Better the TUSCC you know or push on into a brave, new World Endurance Championship?

And so the team has a big decision to make in the coming weeks. One thing is certain: IMSA won't be keen on the idea of losing one of their biggest assets in what could be seen as a top prototype team voting against the fledgling series with its feet. Of course, the FIA will be quietly opening their welcoming arms; America's loss would be the world's gain.

Ryan Dalziel, a 2014 ESM initiate, knows what it takes to win in the WEC after a hugely successful 2012 with Starworks Motorsport. With a brace of brand-new-for-2015 HPD coupes on the way and a possible shift in operations on the cards the Scot’s experience will play a pivotal role in the team’s upcoming plans. He explained what will be influencing ESM’s crucial choice:

“Personally I’d like to end up in a series where we're competitive and this year has been pretty frustrating. As good as the team is we haven't been able to win some TUSCC races when I think we should have.”

Coupe

IMSA have just announced their schedule and Detroit is on the same weekend as the Le Mans Test Day; that's a big negative for us as a P2 team. We were really hoping that there wouldn’t be any conflicts so that might make the decision a bit easier to make.”

“A lot of the decision for next year will ride on this weekend (at COTA). This is all quite new for Ed and Scott and ultimately it's their decision, but I think with a company like Patrón it makes sense to run in the WEC.”

TUSCC’s slightly inauspicious inaugural year - beset by officiating and performance balancing arguments - is clearly a big sticking point when it comes to ESM. But what about the global carrot provided by the FIA’s flagship endurance series?

“I would like to race in the WEC next year," continues Dalziel, "you get to drive at some of the best venues in the world and it’s always pretty cool when you have an Audi and a Porsche fly by you at stupid speeds! But for me the biggest part is Le Mans; we want to be there next year no matter what.”

Later we asked Sharp where he’d like to be in 2015, and his reply was borne of the cautious pragmatism of a team principal: “You've got to spend a lot of money so you'd better have it right! We've spoken to teams like Level 5 that have gone to Le Mans before and they felt that the biggest detriment was that they they never got their heads around the different tyres as well as the locals.“

“If we want to run two cars at Le Mans we probably need to run at least one WEC race at the beginning of next year. We haven't seen a schedule yet so we don't really know for sure but ideally we'd like to race somewhere like Spa.”

The decision can’t just be hashed out over a coffee in a Florida café. When the sums involved run into the millions it makes sense to approach things cautiously, and the WEC has the capacity to either make or break a venture like ESM's.

15297318591 d3b711f79e z

Shanghai will be an even trickier test than Austin. Changing tactics, massive distances and painful logistical headaches all have to be dealt with before the cars even turn a wheel in China, and the fickle nature of the WEC means that even the best prepared teams can come away with only disappointment in their trophy cases.

We already know that they’ll probably have to miss the Detroit round of the TUSCC, and the logistics of moving from Sebring to Paul Ricard in less than a week present a tricky problem, but we’ll have to wait until the November release of the full 2015 WEC calendar before the final decision is made.

However, a few hours after we spoke Dalziel, Sharp and Brown were standing on a podium in Texas, soaked through with champagne in front of a truly global audience of racing fans.

With unfamiliar tyres, just a few weeks to convert the car and world class opposition just a couple of garages down the pit lane, a third place finish showed that ESM could have what it takes to go international in the biggest way possible...

If they believe they can do it then we shouldn't doubt them. With a host of experience at the top level of US sports car racing and a big name like Patrón on the side of the car they’re well placed to make a difference. Snooty European prototype perfectionists should look out; the Americans are coming to take our silverware in all of their lurid, extrovert glory. They mean business, and you’re standing in their way.

Jamie Snelling is an FIA accredited freelance journalist and Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him at @speedchillsview

Toyota Racing were an unstoppable force today as the #8 TS040 of Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi secured a dominant victory in the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Fuji.

Toyota 8 Fuji

Despite all three LMP1 manufacturers leading at various points in a breathtaking first lap it was a day that never looked to be in anyone else’s hands. After a couple of searching dives from Porsche’s Mark Webber and Audi’s Andre Lotterer the raw pace of the home team’s 1000hp prototype came to the fore, with Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima quickly powering off into the far distance.

The threat from behind repeatedly failed to materialise with an early slow puncture putting Webber out of contention for the win and the #14 Porsche also beset by reliability issues. Audi Sport, usually the behemoths of regularity, turned up to Fuji Speedway with a weak package that couldn’t compete on top speed.

Where the top prototypes failed to provide the door-to-door spectacle, however, the LMP2s brought it along by the bucketload. KCMG and G-Drive both showed their mettle at regular intervals throughout the 6 hours, with stunning battles between Alex Imperatori and Olivier Pla bookending the action.

It was Pla who came out on top despite some lightning fast moves through traffic on Imperatori’s part, the G-Drive Ligier-Nissan taking its first win in only its third race. KCMG proved that their win last time out in Texas wasn’t a fluke, and a third place for Oak Racing in the venerable old Morgan-Nissan means that Keiko Ihara becomes the first woman to take a podium in the WEC.

Less impressive was the showing from LMP1-L, a class which will be ditched at the end of the season but lived up to its ‘light’ designation in Fuji. With both Rebellions plagued by drivetrain issues and a dramatic pit lane fire putting an end to Lotus’ race it’s clear that work needs to be done before the privateers can race with the big factory guns in 2015.

Practice and qualifying times had offered up the tasty prospect of an AF Corse vs. Aston Martin battle in GTE Pro, but yet again it was the unwavering reliability of the Ferrari drivers that left them to take a solid class one-two.

Helped along by a first corner incident between the #97 Aston and #92 Porsche, the two 458 Italias had only the Craft-Bamboo V8 Vantage to keep them honest. It didn’t all go their way initially as Fernando Rees, Alex Macdowall and Darryl O’Young drove the wheels off the #99 to lead at regular intervals, but it was too much of a task for the Aston team to keep it up through to the end of the race.

Class victors Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander now have a firm grasp on the championship and can seal the deal with a good result at the next round in Shanghai. The #71 Ferrari also showed its true pace after a season that has so far been beset with problems, James Calado in particular finally able to show his ability after his recent move to GT racing.

Aston Martin had a much better time of it in the orange-stickered GTE Am class with a strong 1-2 showing that never looked under pressure. The ‘Dane Train’ #95 continued its run of excellent form at the hands of Nicki Thiim, David Heinemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen while the #98 came home half a lap later and into second place.

The coveted final spot on the podium was hard-fought over right up to the chequered flag as the two Porsche 911s of Prospeed Competition and Proton Competition tried desperately to hang on until the end. It was the slightly older GT3 RSR of the former that came out on top over the line, the gap just six tenths of a second.

The day belonged to Toyota, however. In front of a fanatical home crowd and a legion of budget-setting bigwigs the German-based Japanese team did everything right. There was relief etched on the faces of the blue and white clad racers as the champagne went flying; the men in suits needed to be shown what they were paying for and this was the best way to do it.

The next round of the FIAWEC is just three weeks and a stone’s throw away in Shanghai where Davidson and Buemi will be keen to extend their healthy championship lead. Another 25 points will be up for grabs so the field will need a quick turnaround; with only three races left the World Endurance Championship is heading towards its conclusion, and it’s every car for itself.

(Photo ©Richard Washbrooke - Adrenalmedia.com)

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited freelance journalist and many times Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @SpeedChillsView

Toyota Racing continued their dominant form today as they powered into the distance to secure a 1-2 finish at the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.

2014-6-Heures-de-Shanghai--rw4-4953 hd

The #8 TS040 of Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson survived a small hiccup in the team’s fuelling rig early on to come from behind and drive past every one of its championship rivals to take the victory.

It wasn’t to be a classic race with controlling drives at the front of each class, but battles throughout the rest of the field and the odd massive failure gave the record crowd a good spectacle.

As the lights went out and 27 cars roared up the pit straight for the first time it was Romain Dumas’ #14 Porsche that headed the pack. But the fans were denied a repeat of Fuji’s first lap spectacular as Alex Imperatori’s KCMG Oreca failed, stopped and caused the GTE Pro leading #51 AF Corse to pile into the back of it.

That brought out the safety car which hampered the action, and although the two Toyotas came in for an early short stop they soon made up the gap when the green flags flew. When the #7 and #8 finally made their way past the two 919s their eventual victory was all but assured.

This left the two German manufacturers to squabble over the final podium position, with Audi quicker through the twisty sector 2 and Porsche unleashing its superior hybrid system down the long back straight.

In LMP2 it was the new-for-2014 Ligier JSP2 of G-Drive Racing that drove off into the distance at the hands of Oli Pla, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal. The brand new chassis was on a different level completely to the ageing Orecas and HPDs of its rivals, lapping consistently quicker and proving its reliability.

The battle behind the Russian outfit was tense and close, however. American team Extreme Speed Motorsports and G-Drive’s compatriots SMP Racing swapped positions throughout the race, dropping back with Silver drivers and powering ahead with their pros.

2014-6-Heures-de-Shanghai-Adrenal-Media-jr7-3366 hd

The #97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Stefan Muecke shook off the spectre of Fuji’s first corner calamity and took a convincing lead in GTE Pro for the first four hours. The two Porsche 911 RSRs could only chase and were preparing themselves to fight over second and third when the left bank of the Aston’s V8 blew up in a huge cloud of smoke.

Muecke stood forlornly at the side of his Vantage and Turner looked thoroughly fed up in the pits, but Porsche were delighted as they defied their season’s form to drive off in team formation.

GTE Am proved a much luckier proposition for Aston Martin as their two contenders powered away at the front and fought amongst themselves for the win. The class’ single Ferrari, the 8 Star Motorsport 458 which was running in AF Corse red instead of its usual bright orange, was in acres of space behind the Astons and ahead of the two Am Porsches.

As the chequered flag dropped nobody was surprised to see Ant Davidson power past in first place, a position his car had held for the majority of the race. The #7 came home second to lock out the front two podium spots while some brilliant recovery driving from Jani, Lieb and Dumas secured a well deserved third for the #14 Porsche.

The two Audis finished fourth and fifth with the #2 heading the #1, while Mark Webber’s #20 Porsche took sixth. In LMP1-L the #12 Rebellion beat it’s sister #13, both R-Ones 9 laps ahead of the Lotus CLM P1/01.

G-Drive finished three laps ahead of the entirety of the P2 field, a performance which will weigh heavily on KCMG, SMP and Oak Racing for the final two races. Extreme Speed take no points from the race as they aren’t full season entries, but followed a third in Texas with a brilliant second in China. Next stop the Americans: the top step.

The #27 SMP took third in class after some good driving from Maurizio Mediani and Nic Minassian, crossing the line just ahead of their #37 team mates. The second ESM finished fifth after mid-race issues and the Oak Racing Morgan-Judd rounded out the six car entry.

2014-6-Heures-de-Shanghai-Adrenal-Media-rw4-8458 hd

GTE Pro ended an all Porsche affair with the #92 ahead of the #91 and the lone surviving AF Corse in third. Last of the class finishers was the #99V8 Vantage, rounding off a disappointing day for the Pro side of the Aston garage.

The Am side had a much better day of it though, with the #98 of Lamy, Dalla Lana and Nygaard coming home just ahead of the ‘Dane Train’ #95. 8 Star took third while the #75 Prospeed took fourth to beat Proton Competition to the Am Porsche plaudits.

With two races still to go in this year’s World Endurance Championship it would take a brave soul to bet on any team other than Toyota. With two utterly dominant performances in the last two races and a record of only being beaten when faced with problems, the Japanese squad look set to breeze to a first world crown.

The next race comes along in just two weeks at Bahrain’s Sakhir Circuit as the world endurance circus starts heading towards the 2014 season’s close. Stay tuned to speedchills.com and @SpeedChillsView on Twitter for all the latest news and views.

The #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Alex Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin held off a double Porsche fightback this evening to take the win in the 2014 FIAWEC 6 Hours of Bahrain.

2014-6-Heures-de-Bahrein-Adrenal-Media-rw7-0202 hd style=

The #8 TS040 of Ant Davidson and Sebastien Buemi struggled with alternator problems early in the race. But after an unimpressive showing from the title-challenging #2 Audi the Toyota duo still managed to sew up the 2014 LMP1 drivers championship.

The #14 and #20 Porsche 919 Hybrids threatened Toyota’s dominance from the start but couldn’t repeat their qualifying pace for a whole six hours, finishing the race in second and third respectively.

They were followed across the line by the two Audis, the German team still suffering from a lack of top speed. The Ingolstadt outfit have said they are considering different options for their 2015 powerplant.

LMP1-L was the usual Rebellion-centric affair with the #13 leading its teammate #12 home seven laps off the leader. The Lotus CLM failed to make an impact at yet another race, completing just one lap before pulling to the side of the track with a fatal gearbox issue.

KCMG cemented their status as one of the rising stars of LMP2 with a confident victory ahead of their main title rivals, SMP Racing. The Hong Kong based team’s driver lineup of Matt Howson, Richard Bradley and Alex Imperatori set a quick pace, finishing three laps ahead of the second placed #37 Oreca.

The #27 SMP had challenged for the lead throughout the race but suffered a catastrophic gearbox blowout just 15 minutes from the end. The third step of the podium was taken by the #35 Oak Racing Morgan-Judd, while the #26 G-Drive Ligier recovered from first lap wishbone damage to take fourth.

GTE Pro was as close as ever, with the #51 AF Corse and #97 Aston Martin utilising different strategies and swapping fastest lap times. The gap at the flag was jus 1.5s with the 458 Italia of Bruni and Vilander in the lead, taking the win.

The #71 Ferrari of Calado and Rigon finished third in class ahead of the two factory Porsche 911s, whose title challenge vanished into the Bahrain night. The #99 Aston had to stop early in the race for an ECU change and was unable to make an impact on the front runners.

LMGTE Am saw another decisive win for the ‘Dane Train’ #95 V8 Vantage of Heiniemeier-Hansson, Thiim and Poulsen, driving into the distance from the start. The #81 AF Corse ran a good strategy to finish second, 24 seconds ahead of the #98 Aston.

Best of the rest was the #88 Proton Competition Porsche with the 8 Star Ferrari in fifth and Prospeed Porsche in sixth.
The World Endurance Championship circus moves to Brazil for its finale in two weeks time, where Toyota are almost certain to take the world constructors championship and bring an end to the Audi era.

The World Endurance Championship has changed a lot during its three short years. In 2012, amid all of the fanfare and uncertainty shouldered by a new race series, there was just one real competitor and a handful of hopeful tag alongs.

2014-6-Heures-de-Bahrein-Adrenal-Media-nd5-8781 hd

Having won both drivers’ and manufacturers’ world championships by that inaugural year’s halfway point, it looked like nobody would be able to topple the ominous juggernaut of Audi Sport’s dominant operation.

How far we’ve come.

This weekend’s final round of the 2014 WEC offers a completely different picture to the world’s millions of racing fans. Now we have legendary names owning the headlines, the series is pushing the boundaries of what’s technologically possible and words like ‘ominous’ and ‘juggernaut’ are off the agenda.

Most importantly we have a new heir about to step up to the throne. Having once been just token competition to the four ringed overlords, Toyota Racing travel to South America looking for their first ever track-based world championship.

And while Ant Davidson and Sebastien Buemi may already have been crowned best of the pedallers make no mistake: it’s the brand victory that really matters to the world’s biggest car maker.

With just six hours left on the clock all that stands in their way is a 2.7 mile grey ribbon painted onto the side of a Sao Paulo hill. The shiny new tarmac, changeable weather and tricky elevation changes have their part to play, but with Audi needing 40 points from the 44 on offer it really is Toyota’s title to lose.

The same six hours separate Porsche from the end of their first full endurance season in more than a decade. Their ‘debut’ year has been a strong one with regular podium appearances and strong performances but that first win remains elusive.

In 2015 they will no longer be the new guys. Nissan’s much publicised return to top-flight sports car racing is likely to be the news-du-jour next year, so the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo will be the German marque’s last chance to have a go at the established leaders. A win could change the chatter about historied underdogs to serious talk of reemerging titans.

Both Toyota and Porsche have a chance to be heralds of the new era of sports car racing. But as one age dawns another wanes, and for one man this weekend’s race will be his last as a professional racing driver.

Tom Kristensen

Although Tom Kristensen will never publicly agree to being called Mr. Le Mans his nine (nine!) victories at the greatest race in the world leave him with a record that is unlikely to be beaten. TK’s retirement brings to an end a phenomenal career at the pinnacle of motorsport, and his absence behind the wheel next year is sad to think of.

Luckily for us there are plenty of pretenders to his crown working their way up through the ranks. High calibre drivers are peppered throughout the WEC field, and with Nissan bringing another six top-drawer seats to the game next year there will be an eagerness among the up-and-comers to impress the decision makers this weekend.

There’s also a large amount of noise surrounding one of the bronze rated local newbies, one E. Fittipaldi. Apparently he won a couple of single seater titles back in the day, so it may be worth keeping an eye on his GTE-Am Ferrari come race day.

The Brazilian is unlikely to have an effect on the championship tables however, as the #95 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage of Thiim, Poulsen and Heinemeier-Hansson has already sealed that particular deal. The same is true in GTE-Pro with the AF Corse duo of Vilander and Bruni having taken the drivers title and given the Ferrari backed team a commanding grasp on the GT manufacturers trophy.

LMP2 is a different prospect. The age of the gentleman’s prototype having a lid on top has arrived with G-Drive’s Ligier JSP2 topping the standings going into the final round, eight points ahead of compatriots SMP Racing.

The P2 trophy will definitely go to one of these two Russian teams and is likely to last right to the chequered flag. G-Drive may have the better race pace but their brand new Ligier has been known to suffer from reliability problems, and SMP will be relying on their Oreca-Nissan to sweep up the title should the black and orange car falter.

So the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo will be a tale of futures being born and amazing stories coming to a close. Is this the beginning of the golden age of LMP2? Can Audi keep a leash on the wild talents of their opponents? Will Emerson Fittipaldi finally get the one win he’s always wanted?

The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace is the stage and the World Endurance Championship is an opera. Our players are some of the greatest names in the world of racing and none of them have read the script. What’s going to happen? Who knows; this is endurance racing. The lights go out at 3pm UK time this Sunday, and when the flag drops six hours later we’ll have our answers.

Porsche Motorsport had a race of huge highs and desparate lows today as they took their first modern-era sportscar win despite a horrific accident involving Mark Webber’s #20 prototype.

10428388 858371180861715 4999250667426676217 o

The #14 919 Hybrid took the chequered flag at the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Sao Paulo, the first Porsche to do so for 15 years. Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas battled constant challenges from both Audi and Toyota but came out on top after a thrilling and often surprising race.

But it was bittersweet for the Weissach boys as, with just minutes left on the clock, Mark Webber smashed his car into the wall while accelerating up the hill and onto the pit straight, taking the #90 AF Corse Ferrari with it.

There were tense moments as the world waited for news of Webber and GT driver Matteo Cressoni, but after a few long minutes it was confirmed that both were OK. Cressoni stepped out of his car under his own steam while Webber was extracted and sent to the medical centre as a precaution.

The race ended under the ensuing safety car, bringing to an end one of the great sportscar seasons. It also brought the end of one the great sportscar careers as Mr. Le Mans Tom Kristensen hung up his helmet following his #1 Audi’s third placed finish.

His R18 e-tron Quattro was beaten to the second step by world champions Ant Davidson and Sebastien Buemi, whose Toyota TS040 has been all but unbeatable this year. The duo were chasing for the win when the Safety Car came out.

Fourth and fifth in LMP1 went to the #8 Toyota and #2 Audi, evidence of just how close all three manufacturers were around the Interlagos circuit. The LMP1-L teams on the other hands were nowhere to be seen, with Lotus and both Rebellions repeatedly hamstrung by mechanical issues.

The title dogfight that had been promised by the LMP2 field was dealt a blow early on in the race, as Olivier Pla shunted his championship leading Ligier head first into the protec barriers. This meant that the #27 SMP Racing team had just to finish the race, a feat they managed after sitting in their garage for some time to save the car.

The class was won overall by KCMG, whose late season form will give them high hopes of mounting a strong title challenge in 2015. The only other P2 entry, the #37 SMP Oreca, ended the race 24th overall.

The long run of bad luck for Aston Martin’s GTE Pro effort ended in Brazil as Darren Turner and Stefan Muecke took their first win of the year. Porsche’s GT factory effort had a slim chance of winning the manufacturers title in Sao Paulo but were scuppered by strong performances from both the #71 and #51 AF Corses which ended the race third and fourth.

The #99 Aston of Rees, O’Young and Macdowell had challenged for the win throughout most of the race but were undone by contact with both the #91 Porsche and #95 Am teammates. They were followed over the line by the #92 Porsche.

GTE Am was business as usual with Aston Martin Racing taking yet another 1-2 finish in class. Thanks to unrelenting pace from the youth of Nicki Thiim and the old head of Pedro Lamy the Gulf-liveried cars streaked ahead and out of the clutches of their competition.

The #98 came home first ahead of the #95 ‘Dane Train’ which, as gentleman driver David Heinemeier-Hansson put it, had been beset by a season’s worth of problems in six hours.

The #81 AF Corse ended best of the rest ahead of the Proton and Prospeed Porsches. The #61 AF Corse was last of the Ams due to a mid-race problem and a drive through for pit lane speeding courtesy of one Emerson Fittipaldi.

The Brazilian sunset brought to an end another year of non stop action and massive growth for the World Endurance Championship. With yet another manufacturer joining the fray in 2015 and the promise of a thoroughly packed grid there’s a lot to look forward to.

Porsche now go into 2015 with a first-season win under their belts, while Toyota will contest while wearing the crown of their first ever sportscar world championship. Audi will be back and hoping to rediscover their dominant spark, while new boys Nissan have promised great things.

We have five months to get our breath back before we do it all again, starting at Silverstone in April of next year. The fourth edition of the WEC will almost certainly continue to be one of the best racing spectacles in the world; you won’t want to miss it.

The FIA World Endurance Championship returns to the Ardennes this weekend for the annual rain-bothering event that is the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. Here are five things you should be looking out for when the lights go green this Saturday:

2015-6-Heures-de-Spa-Francorchamps-WEC-MacLean-Photographic-20150428Spa-XT1-6189 hd

Triple Threat


We all know the best kind of maths is German maths, so when the two most successful sportscar marques of all time turn up to a six hour race with 50% extra hybrid monster in tow you know that stuff’s about to happen.

Both Audi and Porsche have half-agained their chances for Round 2 of the WEC. Will this be enough to crowd out Toyota, who continue with just their usual two entries? The Japanese team don’t look too bothered about it - as they say, why stretch an operation that already works so well with a brace of prototypes.

The 6 Hours of Silverstone had enough LMP1 action for a whole season, and now the competitive field is a third bigger. The numbers add up to something even better this time around...

New Blood
Two more top cars means that six more drivers are needed to pedal the world’s most advanced cars around the legendary Belgian track. Of these, four are brand new to LMP1 race action: Rene Rast for Audi and Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and some guy called Nicolas for Porsche.

Hulkenberg is the latest in a long line of F1 drivers to contest a top flight endurance race, but is the first since Sebastien Bourdais to do so while having a current drive with an F1 team. Could we be seeing a return to the days when drivers would cross racing disciplines? Many eyes will be turned his way on Saturday to find out.

On a similar note this will be Rast, Tandy and Bamber’s first proper introduction to the flat out, full on war that is a full-field WEC race. There’s a lot to think about sitting at the wheel of an LMP; tyres, regeneration, the fact that GT drivers have more of a right to the piece of tarmac in front of them than you do. They’re pros but this is a baptism of fire, let’s hope they’re up to it.

Le Mans Preppers
But it’s not all about the numbers game. The Spa 6 Hours has traditionally been a warm up for the Le Mans 24 Hours, meaning that the top teams often whack completely unsuitable aero kits on their Spa cars just to gather data for the great race.

2015 is no different with defending champions Audi electing to strap low drag body bits onto their two full season entries, the #7 and #8. Interestingly their third entry, that of Rast, Bonanomi and Albuquerque, will run the standard aero kit from the opening round of the season, meaning that the newbies will be driving two very different cars in their two races this season.

Both Porsche and Toyota have opted to stick with their Silverstone bodywork too so will be eager to capitalise on their advantage - as the WEC gains popularity the season long points race is becoming more important. Will Audi’s Le Mans focus see them losing out in this race to gain something in the next?

2015-6-Heures-de-Silverstone-Adrenal-Media-JR5-1887 hdLiterally Anything Could Happen in LMP2
If anybody ever says to you that they know what’s going to happen in the WEC’s LMP2 class then they’re either lying or not as clued-up as they think. Here are just some of the things to note for the Spa 6 Hours:

ESM have swapped their HPDs for Ligiers, which G-Drive used to great effect at Silverstone. Signatech-Alpine will be miffed with their first race performance off the back of a hugely successful few years in the ELMS and will be out to prove they’ve not lost it. Le Mans 2014 class champs JOTA Sport are back to stick two fingers up to the globe-trotting crowd, this time with GP2 and GP3 star Mitch Evans.

Strakka will be looking to extract more performance from their brand new Strakka-Dome which is widely regarded as looking like it should be absolutely mega. Team SARD-Morand will finally turn up with a car after sponsor shenanigans kept them out of Round 1. KCMG will continue to blind fans with their outright pace, extra dose of Nico Lapierre and natty blue and chrome Oreca. Oh, and Oak Racing will turn up with their three gentleman drivers who can rock a flat cap.

So, overall, no short odds to be found.

GTE Up to old tricks
Even the normally rock solid GTE Pro field has had a few changes in the driver department. Porsche have lost Christensen and Pilet to their TUSCC duties and Tandy and Bamber to the big brothers in LMP1 but gained Mclaren GT ace Kevin Estre. Meanwhile Aston Martin have lost the supersonic Nicki Thiim but gained the equally quick Rob Bell.

Other than that it’s largely business as usual in the grand touring ranks, which means there will be 15 cars attempting to power, swoop and smash their way to the front for six hours. So why are they on a list of things to look out for? Because, let’s be honest, we always have done and always will do. They’re awesome.

Oh, and another one: It’s Spa, Take a Brolly
Here’s the biggy. Spa-Francorchamps is lush and green and beautiful for a very good reason: all that pretty niceness perfectly offsets all the awful stuff nature throws at it, like rain and freezing temperatures and other unthinkable annoyances.

Of course, it’s due to rain for the majority of Fridays Free Practice 3 and both LMP and GTE qualifying sessions, that much is a given. Thankfully race day should be relatively dry and sunny… until about 8pm, with half an hour of the race to go. That’s the funny thing about these long, long races: they always seem to go right down to the last roll of the thunder cloud.

What are your predictions for Saturday’s FIAWEC 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps? Let us know by tweeting us @SpeedChillsView!

Porsche Team took a faultless and historic 1-2-3 today in qualifying for the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Spa.

IMG 9537

From the start of the session it was more a question of whether anybody could challenge the 8MJ might of the 919 Hybrid than whether it would take pole position or not. With fully charged batteries the three German prototypes made unbeatable headway on the fast, twisting Belgian circuit, with just a brief interjection from Audi ace Andre Lotterer to keep the fans guessing.

It was the #17 of Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley that flew to the front of the pack, with the #19 of newcomers Hulkenberg and Tandy a quarter of a second behind. The super quick duo of Jani and Lieb had an oddly quiet day, finishing third on the grid and half a second off the polesetters’ time.

The two full season Audis took fourth and fifth with #7 edging the #8 by almost a second, testament to a phenomenal lap by Lotterer which on its own would have troubled the Porsche dominance.

Toyota Racing look to be struggling to replicate 2014’s world championship winning pace so far this year, with the #1 and #2 TS040s both around 3s off the front runners, while the #9 Audi of Rast and Albuquerque were unlucky to finish last of all the big three factory teams’ entries. The lone privateer P1, the CLM of ByKolles, finished just over 9s further back.

G-Drive racing carried their Silverstone form into the Spa qualifying session with a class pole for the #26 Ligier-Nissan. Hong Kong outfit KCMG took second in their firey chrome and blue Oreca 05 under a tenth ahead of the debuting SARD-Morand entry.

The sister G-Drive took fourth, a tenth in front of the reigning Le Mans LMP2 champions JOTA Sport and the #36 Signatech-Alpine. Extreme Speed Motorsports put their brand new Ligier-Hondas into 7th and 9th, split by Strakka Racing’s new Dome which is yet to unlock its full potential. The three gentleman driver team of Oak Racing rounded out the class field.

The GTE session ended with a show of dominance from the Aston Martin of Fernando Rees and Richie Stanaway, both of whom proved that the #99 team is really starting to come into its own. It would have been a front row double for Aston were it not for a last ditch flyer from (who else) Gimi Bruni, the multiple world champion jumping his Ferrari into second at the expense of the #97 of Turner and Muecke.

The #71 AF Corse took fourth on the grid ahead of the #95 ‘Dane Train’ Aston, a car having a quiet weekend with the temporary loss of superstar Nicki Thiim. The two Porsche 911s, also subject to some quick switching among the team, could only manage sixth and seventh but were separated by less than a tenth of a second.

Aston Martin also led the way in GTE Am with Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy not even bothering to stay out when they saw their one second lead over the chasing pack. The #50 Corvette took second ahead of the #88 Porsche, with the #55 and #83 AF Corses, #72 SMP, Dempsey Racing Porsche and #96 Aston rounding out the grid.

Audi outmanoeuvred their opponents again today to take a slim win in the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps. The #7 R18 etron Quattro of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer took the chequered flag after 176 faultless laps around the legendary Belgian circuit.

6 Hours of Spa-0136 style=

From the start it looked like Porsche had too much in the tank to be stopped, but a series of drivers errors and technical issues left a single Stuttgart entry fighting the ever-present threat of the Audi. When the #18 of Jani, Lieb and Dumas exited the pits after the final round of stops there was a 14 second gap that, in the end, Jani couldn’t overturn.

The rest of the P1 field had anything but an easy day, with the other two Porsches being shuffled back due to penalties from a bizarre off track excursion and recurring brake issues respectively.

The #17, at the hands of Bernhard, Webber and Hartley managed to get back up to speed and take third on the podium, however. The #9 Audi was best of the rest ahead of the #2 Toyota, the Japanese marque having had an unimpressive weekend to be forgotten.

The ever expanding LMP1 field was rounded out by the #8 Audi and #1 Toyota, with the privateer ByKolles CLM only managing to complete 46 laps before being wheeled back into the garage.

LMP2 saw another starring performance from the guesting ELMS stalwarts and 2014 Le Mans class winners JOTA Sport. Piloted by Harry Tincknell, Simon Dolan and a debuting Mitch Evans, the newly christened Gibson 015S-Nissan finished the race a lap ahead of the rest of the pack.

The #28 of G-Drive Racing was the first of the full time WEC crew, taking full race winners points due to JOTA’s non-championship status. Team Sard Morand, in their first race after a dud start to the year, took third on the podium.

Fourth was the Oreca 05 of KCMG which had to start the race from the pit lane due to a technical infringement in qualifying. Reigning ELMS champions Signatech-Alpine were next ahead of the # 42 Strakka-Dome S103 and #35 Oak Racing Ligier.

6 Hours of Spa-0108

Extreme Speed Motorsports were forced to treat the race as more of a test session, having only taken delivery of one of their cars on Monday and not turned dry laps until Friday’s track running. The winners of the last round at Silverstone, the #26 G-Drive Nissan, suffered an engine failure after 124 laps.

GTE Pro was the usual thrilling ride with a battle that should have gone right down to the wire between the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and #99 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, were it not for a late race pit stop penalty for the Italian team that left them fourth.

This allowed the #92 and #91 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSRs up into second and third, a result that not even the most avid team fans would have predicted at the start. The #97 and #95 Aston Martins finished fifth and sixth in class ahead of the #71 AF Corse.

The GTE Am crown was taken by Lamy, Dalla Lana and Lauda in the #98 Aston Martin, ahead of the #83 AF Corse and #72 SMP Racing Ferraris. An error-beset Dempsey Racing entry could only manage 5th behind the Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche and the finishers were rounded out by the #96 Aston and #55 AF Corse.

The Larbre Competition Corvette was running well until Kristian Poulsen had a moment out of Paul Frere, ending the race with rear right damage sustained in contact with the tyre wall.

The WEC field (plus a few others) will meet next at the greatest race in the world, the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Porsche threw down a serious German gauntlet yesterday, with Neel Jani setting a new course record to take pole position for the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Porsche 18

It took just one lap for the entire six hours of qualifying to be decided as the #18 919 Hybrid, co-driven by Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas, used its 8MJ hybrid power unit to devastating effect. The pole time of 3:16.887 beat last year's quickest qualifying lap by almost five seconds.

The Porsche party continued with the #17 and #19 placing second and third on the grid. The #8 Audi of Britain's Oli Jarvis was best of the rest, almost 3s behind the polesitter. The other two Audis followed and then the two Toyotas, which lapped Le Mans two seconds slower than they had in 2014.

The two Rebellion AERs finished 9th and 10th with the 11th placed ByKolles CLM eight seconds further back, while the three Nissans struggled once again with their new GT-R LM Nismos running around the pace of the fastest LMP2 cars.

The junior prototype class was lead by the KCMG Oreca 05 Nissan, with the #26 G-Drive pushing the #41 Greaves down to third with a late flying lap.
Last year's class winning #38 JOTA Sport ended in fourth with the rest of the 19-strong P2 field arrayed out over the next 13 seconds.

LM GTE Pro was an Aston/Ferrari sandwich, with the #98 V8 Vantage leading the multi-winning #51 458 and the sister #97 art car Aston. The Corvettes performed well early on, ending 6th and 8th, but were retired to the garage after a mechanical fault led to Jan Magnussen crashing heavily.

The two factory GTE Porsches were unable to match the pace of their competition, finishing 7th and last in class.

GTE Am was led by the #98 Aston Martin followed by the #83 and #72 Ferraris. The lone Viper of US team Riley Motorsports took a well deserved 4th on the class grid.

The Le Mans 24 Hours has turned a corner. Those days of watching the four rings lap rampant around the world’s greatest race? They’re over. In years to come the motor racing world will remember 2015 as the year that endurance racing came of age again.

GT1A6213

Three LMP1 rookies stood on the top step of the famous podium, bemused but delirious. Just a month earlier Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Nico Hulkenberg had had their first taste of competition in top flight sports car racing - now they were the maestros, orchestrating a perfect race across the course of what must have seemed an age.

And they’d beaten the modern masters, demolished last year’s pretenders and opened a new chapter in one of the most historic annals of sports car racing. Audi had been brushed off, Toyota were left behind in the French countryside, and Porsche had taken a record 17th overall victory.

Audi had started well, the #7 of three-time winners Lotterer, Treluyer and Fassler at one point passing both #17 and #18 Porsches in the space of four corners. But soon their story began to unravel, strand by strand.

A crash for the #8 required a nose change - completed in Audi’s typical fast fashion. Filipe Albuquerque caught Brendon Hartley before having to pit slightly earlier - but without the pace advantage needed to make that strategy work. Rear bodywork came loose, in one instance being shredded by the air passing over it - fixed, yes, but valuable minutes lost.

Audi looked like a team in crisis. This wasn’t them. Not that Porsche went untroubled, with early leader Mark Webber being penalised with a minute’s stop and go penalty for overtaking under yellow flags, and the #18 of Jani, Lieb and Dumas suffering from brake issues which left it in the tyre wall twice.

But circulating steadily and keeping it on the road allowed the ‘white’ Porsche to rise to the top of the field. Bamber had only raced here in a 911 while Hulkenberg and Bamber had only raced here in a simulator. Still they swept around the Circuit de Le Sarthe, never overstepping their talent, always pushing without risk.

Not even the spectre of a full field of slower cars troubled them, despite that field having and causing problems of its own. Aston Martins littered the track, the two Amateur entries heavily into separate walls in the last sector, the three Pros either suffering mechanical failures or suffering long post-crash stints in the garage.

The end of the #98 V8 Vantage was particularly brutal; Paul Dalla Lana’s foot slipping off the brake pedal and nosing heavily into a concrete barrier - just 45 minutes from the end and from a lead of almost two minutes. The Canadian slapped both hands on the side of his helmet again and again and again, distraught.

Last year’s GTE Pro winning AF Corse of Gimi Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella went a similar way, a gearbox issue depositing it from the lead and into the garage with just two hours to go.

This left it to Corvette Racing to take an ecstatic chequered flag, made all the more sweet by the fact that they had had to withdraw the sister #63 C7R after a chassis-ruining shunt for Jan Magnussen in qualifying.

The #64 team of Oli Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor ran strongly throughout the 24, first dicing with the #97 and #99 Astons and then holding off the challenge of the #51. The #71 Ferrari took a plodding second, while a stellar performance by Bruni’s mechanics (under the Italian’s stern gaze) allowed him and his teammates to take the third step.

IMG 0219

LMP2 on the other hand was almost never in doubt. The Hong Kong based KCMG team, running a new Oreca 05 with a Nissan engine, led from the start. In fact, bar a handful of early laps in the pit stop period, the team of Nico Lapierre, Matt Howson and Richard Bradley were away at the front of the field for the entire race.

The Thiriet by TDS team could have had a go had they not been taken out by a brake-failed Aston Martin in the early hours of Sunday morning. A late surge by 2014 class winners JOTA Sport saw them scramble to second with the Russian G-Drive team bringing their Ligier home in third.

A similar scramble happened the instant that Dalla Lana went into the wall at the Ford Chicane, with SMP Racing slipping their Ferrari 458 Italia up into first place in GTE Am at the hands of Victor Shaytar, Aleksei Basov and Andrea Bertolini. They too had been lapping quietly, largely unopposed and with only a few small errors - a tactic which, unsurprisingly, tends to work well in endurance.

Second in class was the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Pat Long, Marco Seefried and hollywood star Patrick Dempsey, just ahead of compatriots Scuderia Corsa. The podium was a moment to remember for US racing fans, with five homegrown drivers spraying champagne in front of the crowd.

But as always it was the main event which brought the fans running along the track and scrumming beneath the podium, as Hulkenberg drove his victorious 919 Hybrid the wrong way down the pit lane, Bamber and Tandy sitting either side, all three screaming like maniacs. This wasn’t what they had expected, or really prepared for.

The sister #17 919, in ‘classic red’ livery, was driven to 2nd place by Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley. Audi were left to scoop up a distant third, last year’s race winners left looking up at the top step jealously.

There was a mixture of joy and relief rippling around the crowd. Audi will always have their place in the history of Le Mans, but with this win Porsche have become only the third team to beat the four rings in their dominant era while adding to Stuttgart’s own, unbeaten tally.

IMG 9869

That honour could have been Toyota’s in 2014 were it not for a couple of procedural errors. The 2015 iteration of their TS040 was so far off the pace however, that the Cologne-based marque became a footnote in the story. Seven seconds a lap off the pace, running without issue, ending the race eight and nine laps down, the two blue and white prototypes of the reigning world champions were worse than bad; they were irrelevant.

The privateer LMP1s were similarly unimportant but at least still brought excitement to the race, with Rebellion and ByKolles’ cars both looking and sounding like proper race cars should. The former finished 18th and 23rd overall, the latter almost overcame their 100% record of failure but unfortunately retired with fifteen minutes to go.

A special mention should go to Nissan, who turned up with three bizarre and innovative cars that were never going to be on the pace but still contested the race as if they were going for an overall win.

The front engined, front wheel drive GT-R LM Nismos ran intermittently, frequenting the pits like moths to a light, always either running round and learning or back in and fixing. The team was exhausted by the end of it - of all those here the Nissan boys and girls were the busiest.

The self proclaimed ‘bad boys of racing’ have a lot of ground to make up - they qualified more than 20s behind the polesitter. But with the addition of an 8MJ hybrid system, improved braking and more time to perfect set up they may well come into contention in 2016.

But today was all about who had won it now; who had triumphed in 2015 and how they had done it. Porsche outstrategised Audi, they worked better as a team and they had built a fankly phenomenal sports car, one that broke the previous lap record by seconds rather than tenths.

The era of hybrid monsters has now properly arrived. These aren’t the experimental tech labs of the past, they’re the product of a space race to the top of the power charts, 8 megajoules of energy per lap being hoovered up and squirted back out by the winning car, a figure that contributed in a concrete way to the victory.

And it’s no longer just endurance either; Toyota have proved that you can’t win with reliability any more. When none of the top drawer cars fail over 24 hours you need more than that, you need speed and consistency and drivers who can handle it.

So 2015 has signalled a phase change in the way that endurance racing has to be approached. There’s no dominant force arrogantly ‘welcoming challengers’. There’s no underdog hopefuls. There’s just the world’s best racing teams at each others throats for the sweet taste of winning. For them it’s marketing, sales and prestige. But for the rest of us, it’s the best racing in the world, and the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has proven that.

Porsche Team picked up where they left off from Le Mans almost three months ago, locking out the front row for the inaugural running of the FIAWEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring.

The #18 919 Hybrid of Jani, Dumas and Lieb took pole position with an average time of 1:36.473, which while quickest in the 20 minute session was still four tenths slower than the car’s time in the morning's free practice session.

0000

The #17 of Webber, Bernhard and Hartley was a slim seven hundredths further back. The two Audis will start on the next row with the #8 qualifying third and the #7 fourth, both over a second off the pole time.

Toyota Racing had another quiet day, with the #1 and #2 TS040s placing fifth and sixth a further second behind the Audis. Rebellion Racing were quickest of the privateers with the #12 pipping #13, around six seconds a lap slower than the class polesitters.

The ByKolles CLM was again last in class though appears to have made large gains over the summer break, being less than two seconds off the pace of the Rebellions.

The LMP2 grid was settled late in the session, with quick laps from Le Mans winner Nick Tandy putting the similarly victorious KCMG Oreca on pole with an average time of 1:46.132. The #26 Ligier of G-Drive Racing took second and the #36 Alpine took third; only a second separating the top three.

The sister G-Drive was best of the rest ahead of the #43 Sard-Morand Morgan, #42 Strakka Gibson and the two Extreme Speed Ligiers.

AF Corse left it late in the session to take a front row lockout in GTE Pro, a surprise to all as Aston Martin Racing had looked very strong all weekend. The #51 of reigning world champs Bruni and Vilander took class pole ahead of the #71, with the #95 ‘Dane Train’ V8 Vantage taking third.

The two GTE Porsches followed with the #92 heading the #91, while the remaining two Astons completed the GTE Pro grid.

GTE Am was also a Ferrari affair with the ever-improving SMP Racing outfit leading the field, the fastest average time being set by Viktor Shaytar and Alexey Basov. The #98 Aston finished half a second further back with the Dempsey Racing Porsche rounding out the top three.

The #83 AF Corse, #50 Larbre Corvette and #96 finished off the overall grid for the race which starts at 1300 CET. Watch all the action live at www.fiawec.com, and join our conversation at www.twitter.com/speedchillsview!

On the face of it, the consecutive losses in the past year of both Audi and then Porsche from the LMP1 ranks have dealt hefty blows to the world of sports car racing, worthy of an Anthony Joshua right hook.

But have the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship crumpled to the canvas, out for the count in their wake? Of course not.

In fact, the jewel of long-distance sports car racing and its associated series have weathered the double blow remarkably well, and as we power on towards the brightening horizon of 2018 both appear decidedly spritely. Motor racing’s ability to sniff the smelling salts, rejuvenate and punch back stronger than ever never ceases to amaze.

Le Mans in particular has always proven bigger than any single manufacturer, throughout its illustrious 95-year history. So as we settle into the brief seasonal hibernation induced by the heady mix of minced pies and mulled wine, let’s ponder exactly what will get our juices running again in 2018 as a new era dawns for the greatest motor race in the world.

1. LMP1 takes a leaf from Mark Twain’s book

Sure, as the last manufacturer standing with a hybrid thoroughbred, Toyota will never have a greater chance to end its infamous Le Mans jinx – with or without Fernando Alonso – running an updated version of its TS050 HYBRID.

Toyota TS050 Hybrid 2017

But with only two entries expected from the Japanese giant, even now nothing can be taken for granted. As Toyota knows only too well from recent (bitter) experience, the first competitor any manufacturer at Le Mans has to conquer is the race itself. Even with an apparent open goal, the capacity to balloon it over the bar once again, either through technical failures or driver mistakes, will be all too real for this team come June 16/17.

2. There’s Rebellion in the ranks…

Fresh from WEC title success in the super-competitive LMP2 arena, top prototype privateer Rebellion Racing has confirmed its return to the top category for 2018 with a two-car entry bristling with promise.

And with the new rules designed to equalise performance between factory hybrid and privateer non-hybrid power, the Anglo-Swiss squad will carry genuine hope into the new year that its new contender will have the capacity to carry the fight to Toyota. Whether that’s realistic or not remains to be seen.

The new car, said to be another creation from seasoned partner ORECA, will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Meanwhile, a superstar line-up of drivers has already been confirmed.

Porsche LMP1 refugees Andre Lotter and Neel Jani have been named among the six, which also includes Bruno Senna – nephew of Ayrton – and talented youngster Thomas Laurent, who has controversially switched from the rival DC Racing LMP2 squad that came so close to sensationally winning the race overall last June.

Rebellion is a seriously good racing team. Toyota will not underestimate its challenge.

3. Privateers on parade: the new arrivals

Along with Rebellion, the promise of greater LMP1 competition between manufacturer might and privateer pluck has enticed optimistic new projects into the top class, and one in particular looks certain to give the hordes of British Le Mans disciples a new focus come June.

Successful LMP2 chassis builder Ginetta has accepted the challenge with an exciting all-new design set to be revealed at the Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC in January. The company has linked up with former F1 entrant Manor Racing for what promises to be a potent challenge.

Then there’s SMP Racing’s new Dallara-built LMP1, dubbed the BR1, which was unveiled at the Bahrain WEC season finale in November. Run by top GP2/F2 team ART Grand Prix, with former Renault F1 ace Vitaly Petrov among the drivers, this is another serious effort with long-term potential.

Fingers will be firmly crossed among sports car racing’s rule-makers that this revived interest in LMP1, fueled by ‘realistic’ budgets, will reap rewards for the privately funded entrants who have made the commitment. The silver lining of Audi and Porsche’s withdrawal glistens with genuine hope.

4. GTE: who needs prototypes?

Even if LMP1 does fall flat at Le Mans in June, the intensity of what will be happening behind them in the GTE ‘supercar’ class will more than compensate. Manufacturer interest has shot through the roof, and in a certain respect, it’s just a pity the influx of contenders aren’t competing for the overall win…

That’s a debate for another day. For now, what matters is that the ‘race within a race’ at Le Mans promises serious bragging rights for some of the biggest and most famous motoring brands in the world.

5. The Porsche factor: Mark Twain still relevant!

Yes, I’m borrowing that cliché once more: the number one Le Mans manufacturer’s demise at the 24 Hours has been greatly exaggerated, despite that headline LMP1 withdrawal. That’s because Porsche has now doubled its efforts to conquer the GTE class, following its hat trick of overall wins between 2015-17.

Regular GT aces Richard Lietz, Frederic Makowiecki and Gianmaria Bruni, who will make his first start for Porsche at Le Mans following his defection from Ferrari, are all confirmed. But also expect to see former LMP1 stars Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in action. That’s quite a squad to keep the winning run going, albeit in the lower class.

6. German flavour remains potent

As Porsche shows a renewed commitment to GT racing, so too do two other German automotive giants. For the first time since 2011, BMW is returning to Le Mans with an all-new GTE contender, while Mercedes will also be represented – even if it’s in disguise.

Aston Martin will keep the British end up once again, with its fantastic-looking new Vantage set to defend the hard-fought victory of 2017. But the German link is under the hood: an AMG Mercedes twin turbo now powers Aston’s front-engined GTE contender, following the engineering tie-up between two brands.

Aston Martin Vantage LM-GTE 2018

Add in an unchanged Ford line-up, Ferrari coming off the back of WEC title success and a continued challenge from Corvette, and GTE offers potentially one of the strongest manufacturer entries in Le Mans history. The battle between Ferrari vs Porsche vs Aston Martin vs Corvette vs Ford vs BMW… take a breath… will be simply immense.

Who needs LMP1?

7. Super-sized season with a double helping of Le Mans

All this is then set in the context of the WEC’s new-era ‘Super Season’ calendar. For the first time in the series’ history, the WEC will carry over into a second calendar year – allowing two consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours to count towards one world title campaign. Intriguing.

The marathon season kicks off in May with the Spa 6 Hours, before the teams take in the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours in June. The next six-hour round follows at Silverstone, now running in spectator-friendly August (we hope!) rather than at wet and windy Easter, before the calendar year concludes with races at Fuji and Shanghai.

FIA WEC 2018-19 Super Season Calendar

Then in 2019 the ‘super season’ picks up once more in March, with an exciting new 1500-mile round at Sebring in Florida, taking place the day after IMSA’s blue-riband 12 Hours. The weekend of action creates a fantastic double-header that looks certain to become a new and hugely popular sports car racing tradition.

Following Sebring, the teams return to Spa for another 6 Hours, before the series hits its climax at the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours. That establishment of a new rhythm to the sports car racing season, with the series ending at its most famous race, should hopefully boost the profile of the WEC – and in the future will offer a season shape that mimics that of football. It makes sense.

So there you have it. Far from hand-wringing at a weakened LMP1 entry, sports car racing fans can look forward to fresh beginnings in 2018 – and Le Mans will be as unmissable as ever.

Care to join us?

In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas and here’s to a flat-out new year.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

Was it just me, or did the motorsport world perceptibly shift off its axis in late October? The Indy 500 had been amazing enough – but Fernando Alonso, two-time Formula 1 world champion and the man considered the greatest grand prix driver of his generation, was now dropping another sensational news bomb.

He told us he's all set to race in the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona in an LMP2 prototype.

Come again?

This is a race that 15-20 years ago had been all but reduced to the status of a glorified 'clubbie', featuring a hardened band of specialist teams, with seasoned pros mixing it with well-heeled amateurs. It was a curio, a throwback to previous eras – and little more.

To those who only follow F1 today, it still won't offer much of a blip on their radar. But to anyone with a wider (and more developed) racing perspective, the Daytona 24 Hours is now back to its best, the season opener for a terrifically healthy and entertaining American sportscar championship featuring a selection of some of the best long-distance racing drivers on the planet.

It's still an oddity thanks to its quirky and utterly charming character. But it's also a race that once again matters, just as it did when Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s were duking it out around its high banking in the early 1970s.

Fernando Alonso - Copyright Formula 1

But why on earth is Alonso doing it?

The Spaniard's new ambition to chase alternative motor racing goals was born, of course, from depressing frustration at McLaren-Honda's failure to deliver him a competitive F1 car. For so long, he's been desperate to add a third world title to the pair he won for Renault way back in 2005-06. But as the years have slipped by in monotonous disappointment, Alonso has opened his eyes to the rich racing world around him.

This man is super-bright and, against the common perception of F1 heroes, he genuinely loves motorsport – with the ability to see far beyond the privileged, blinkered world of the grand prix paddocks.

I'd got an inkling there was more to him during his Ferrari years when he told my old friend Nigel Roebuck that he enthusiastically read our magazine, Motor Sport – and not just the bits about modern F1. But still, could I have predicted one of the most ambitious and ruthless F1 drivers in history would soon be vying to win classic races considered 'obscure' among the elite he mixes with in his day job? No way.

But it's happening nevertheless, even though the Rolex doesn't form part of the unofficial 'Triple Crown' Alonso has set his heart on chasing.

Only Graham Hill managed to clinch the magic trio – the F1 world championship, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Alonso has reasoned, quite logically, with Michael Schumacher's record seven F1 titles now out of his reach, his quest for legendary status lies in an ambition to show all-round ability: to win in a variety of machinery in a variety of racing disciplines, just like versatile legends such as Mario Andretti, Vic Elford and Stirling Moss.

He was a genuine contender to add the Indy 500 to his collection last May, but as I was lucky enough to witness first-hand, was robbed by yet another blown Honda engine. He'll return to Indy one day to try again – because he'll have to if he wants that triple crown.

Meanwhile, there's Le Mans, a race he has experienced as an enthusiastic visitor. We're all hooked to see if he'll be the magic ingredient Toyota craves to end its jinx at the great race next June – if he signs up as we all hope he will. His maiden test in Bahrain following the FIA World Endurance Championship season closer this autumn certainly whetted his appetite for LMP1 machinery, so fingers crossed.

But Alonso in LMP2? Really?

Really.

For me, this shows the man is serious about these extra-curricular activities. The United Autosports Ligier JSP217 is a great little car, but in performance terms this is a prototype designed for amateurs to handle as much as seasoned pros. It's hardly going to test him.

But that's not the point. He's taking on Daytona as part of his preparation to build experience for Le Mans. He needs endurance miles and the Rolex is a prime opportunity to gain a load.

Also, I suspect, he knows it'll be fun. And that's also the point of this diversion to Florida.

United Autosports boss Zak Brown does, of course, have the more significant day job of steering the McLaren F1 team through their current trouble, and it's the American who's smashed the glass ceiling for Alonso's new-found ambitions. Brown is no stranger to Daytona and will have fed the Spaniard tall stories about just how great Florida can be at the end of January.

He's right to, because it is.

Back in 2011, Zak invited me out to a race I'd attended before, but this time to specifically write about his latest entry. He'd convinced F1 old boys and good mates Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell to race alongside him in a Daytona Prototype. The pair jumped at the chance of reliving past glories, for both had raced at the Florida speedbowl in the Group C/GTP era – in Brundle's case successfully so, as he won for Jaguar in 1988.

I interviewed the pair before the race in United Autosport's motorhome, the ‘Brundell brothers' enjoying the bonhomie and banter. On Daytona, Martin stated categorically that "physically, it was the hardest race I ever did. The Jaguars were heavy, and I think it was particularly humid when we raced here with three drivers."

Alonso will have been told such tales. He won't be expecting an easy time, even if the Ligier is no Jaguar XJR-12. But 24 hours on Daytona's mix of oval banking and infield road course should never be underestimated – even by a maestro.

Especially as he'll be facing a competitive field full of sports car specialists, and a heady mix of Indycar and NASCAR heroes. So many turn out at Daytona to shake the winter cobwebs, to have some fun of their own – and also to try to win a Rolex… This race matters to so many for so many reasons.

The Daytona Banking

And that's why, as much as Alonso is a great story for the race and a gilt-edged reason to pay a visit next January, he's not the only reason why a trip to Daytona should be on everyone's motorsport bucket list.

Daytona doesn't need a global superstar pitching up to be one of the best experiences in racing, from either the perspective of the cockpit or the grandstands.

First of all, the place is huge, especially now the main stand has been expanded beyond its already colossal size. And without the mammoth crowds attracted by the more nationally famous NASCAR 500-miler that takes place a couple of weeks later, it's also spectator-friendly. Such is the size of the site, even if thousands do turn up, it never really feels like it.

The spectacle on the banking, the sense of history, the accessible nature of US motorsport, an escape from frozen Europe in January… the Rolex 24 might not be included among the Triple Crown, but it's still special – it's an ‘event' like no other.

For Alonso, the penny has dropped that F1 isn't the be-all and end-all. He's ready for new adventures, and Daytona offers an experience he will never forget – much as it will be for any visitor.

Racing's North Turn, Daytona Beach, Florida

One final tip if you're tempted (and you should be!): take a drive about 20 minutes south down the coast to the North Turn restaurant. This is the site of Daytona's first beach races that began way back in 1936, long preceding NASCAR's foundation and the building of the famous superspeedway in '59.

Daytona's motorsport heritage was born on the beach, with land speed records broken on its sands when professional stock car racing was but a glint in the eye of founding father Bill France and its first aces were still running moonshine... The North Turn, with its fantastic photos and memorabilia, is a quiet little racing mecca – and the perfect coda to any Daytona trip.

And after all we've seen in the past year, I wouldn't even be surprised if you bumped into a curious Spaniard checking it out for a bite of lunch… Stranger things have happened, and on this evidence, will again in 2018 and beyond. The adventure is just beginning.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

Image Formula 1 (Fernando Alonsa portrait)

Porsche LMP1 Team were hoping to end their final season in the World Endurance Championship with a victory but it was not to be as the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed the win. It was a close battle for the LMP2 championship as pit strategy played a big part in the closing stages. It was the #31 Vaillante Rebellion that took the win, gifting Bruno Senna and Julien Canal the LMP2 Endurance Trophy. GTE Pro and Am had looked to have an exciting race at the start, but by the halfway point it had settled into a fairly static race. The #71 AF Corse took a lights-to-flag victory whilst the sister car took second, securing the GT Drivers’ World Endurance Championship. After four years of trying, Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda finally secured the 2017 Am Endurance Trophy.

The winning trio of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson were the only LMP1 car to not suffer any incidents during the six-hour race. Toyota had the pace on Porsche, but it should have been a closer battle than it was. Because of the carnage behind them, the #8 was the only car to end up on the lead lap at the chequered flag.

Porsche had to be happy with a double podium at the end of the race, but with that having been unlikely it was a nice send off for the German team. An incident between the #92 Porsche GT Team and the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing in which the #7 made contact and took the #92 out of the race saw the second Toyota drop out of contention, leaving the path clear for Porsche to take a two-three.

Championship-winning #2 Porsche were taken out of the victory contention early on when a bollard got wedge under Timo Bernhard in the first few minutes. Due to contact between the #1 and the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche that gave the #1 a puncture, the #2 car were able to make up some lost time and take second with the sister car behind.

Starting from sixth, the #31 Vaillante Rebellion made a great start in the hands of Senna, getting up to second behind a flying Vitaly Petrov in the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing within the first hour of the race. It was exactly where they needed to be to secure the championship.

As the race progressed, tyre and pit stop strategy began to come into play. With the challenging #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing taking stopped about every 20 minutes, the Rebellion duo countered that with longer stints. It put the #38 ahead in the middle of the race, but come the end there was a big pit stop window available for Senna to use and retain the win.

With a power steering issue, it was predicted that Senna would use his last stop for new tyres and a driver change, bringing them very close on track to the #38 Jackie Chan car. However, in fear of being caught, Senna soldiered on with the issue and only took fuel in his last stop, leaving him with a 30 second advantage on Oliver Jarvis in the #38 behind.

A crack in the fuel tank cost the #38 some pace, but Jarvis was pushing hard. They finished behind the #31 Rebellion, with ten seconds being the gap between winning and losing the championship.

#71 had led the race competitively from the start, but the full course yellows that hit the track to clear the stricken #92 Porsche came at the wrong time for them. Having just had their pit stop, they went from a 20 second lead to a 30 second deficit in one lap. AF Corse tried a different strategy, but it did not pay off.

As they had used the #71 as a guinea pig for the strategy, they had cost them time on track, meaning the #51 sister car was ahead. With just five minutes to go, AF Corse ordered for a car swap so that the #71 took victory. With both the championship rivals of the #51 behind, it did not matter that the car finished second. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi took the championship.

It had looked at one point that Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell could claim the win. They were leading with the #51 in third behind the #71, meaning there was enough points between them for the Ford Chip Ganassi team to steal the victory. A fire up issue in their pit stop lost them too much time to stay in the Ferrari fight, so they had to settle with taking their last podium of the season with third.

Aston Martin, after a promising start to the weekend, could not give the Vantage the send out they wanted to. They could do no better than sixth and seventh at the chequered flag, with Jonny Adam and Darren Turner’s #97 leading the duo.

After a fight between the #61 Clearwater Racing and the #98 in the first few hours of the race, the Aston Martin got the edge on the Ferrari and took a pleasant dominant race to class victory by 1m17s, claiming their first AM Endurance Championship. The team have had 12 race victories in their four-year career, with four of those being won this season, all pole to flag.

The two Ferrari-run Am teams joined them on the podium, with Clearwater ahead of Spirit of Race.

The championship battle everyone was hoping for never really appeared as the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was not a threat to the Aston at any point of the weekend.

In September, the World Endurance Championship banded together with Motorsport Network and Nielsen to put together and extensive fan survey. As the WEC has gone through some changes over the past couple of years and looks to be having even more of a revamp from next year onwards (with things like the winter ‘super season’ and LMP1 being more focused on privateers than manufacturers), it was necessary for the WEC to see how fans felt about the sport to increase their engagement, not decrease it. Today, the WEC have released the results of the survey, promising they will take every aspect into consideration when making decisions about the series going forwards.

WEC had responses from 179 countries across the world, with approximately 54,500 surveys being completed. They took a sample of about 37,200 surveys to produce the results that will be presented below. It rates as the largest survey to have ever been conducted among sportscar fans.

It was discovered that the WEC has a well-established fan base, with around 58% of those who took the survey claiming they had watched it for over six years (since before WEC had been inaugurated). The other 42% showed promise of a younger fanbase coming into the sport, with most of those stating they had watched for at least three years. Responses from Europe were most popular, with 65% of the responses coming from the continent. Americas were next, with 20%, leaving 10% to have come from Asia-Pacific and the remaining 5% coming from outside these regions. With a good balance of loyal, long-term fans and newer, younger fans the series appears to have a strong support basis going forwards.

The majority of WEC fans appeared to be hard core motorsport enthusiasts, on average not having much interest in other sports outside motorsports. The brand health of WEC looks healthy, but a startling 80% of those who participated said that the WEC was not as healthy as it was three years ago. With the demise of LMP1 and the loss of teams over the last few years, this is not a surprising conclusion.

The fans are happy with WEC, describing it with key attributes of technological, competitive, innovative, exciting and global. The competitive of WEC in comparison to Formula One sees the endurance series come out on top, and in expensiveness the WEC also appears better value for money. So long as WEC can continue to deliver exciting, close racing in state of the art cars, the results of the survey suggest fans will still be happy with the series.

Official websites and motorsport websites come out as the top source of information, with TV coverage coming in as second best. With younger spectators, it seems that on demand and live streaming videos are more desired, with the WEC YouTube account seeing a 60% rise in usage compared to last year. Fans would prefer to pay nothing for additional content, but are willing to pay up to $25, as revealed by the survey.

In discussing the spectacle of WEC, is was indicated that fans desire a diverse range of things from the series. The range of classes on the track is very appealing to spectators, whilst the format of the race weekend, input of manufacturers into the sport and race events are the key elements of the WEC that sees fans attracted to the sport. Unsurprisingly, the LMP1 class rated as the most followed category in the series, but the positive that WEC can pull from this is that 80% of fans said they followed GTE classes as well as LMP1. It does mean that the WEC are going to have to make sure LMP1 stays as successful as it has been in the coming seasons, with the new privateers taking more of a focus than the hybrids, as it appears from the survey results to be the most anticipated series of the championship.

A championship of eight to ten races was concluded to be the ideal length by the fans in this survey. With this season having raced nine races, including Le Mans, it seems the fans are satisfied with how many race events occur in a season. When asked about which circuits are most appealing to fans around the world, the top five circuits were listed as: Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe, Fuji Speedway, Sebring International Raceway, Silverstone, and Spa-Francorchamps.

In conclusions, the WEC draws from the results that it is currently in good health. Fans agree that the sport is good and enjoyable to watch, but 90% do also believe that more should be done to entice more spectators. Given the success and the enormous amount of responses to the survey, the WEC wish to conduce another before the start of the 2020/2021 season to see how fans have reacted to the radical changes that are about to come into action. It does seem that the WEC are taking the results seriously, and plan to used the fans comments to make positive steps in the future of the World Endurance Championship.

The fairytale starts as Porsche want it: taking pole position in their final outing of the LMP1 919-Hybrid, but the story is far from over. Toyota are hot on their heels and seem to have the pace advantage in the race. The LMP2 championship battle is going to be one to not take your eyes off. The leading #31 Vaillante Rebellion starts down the grid whilst their rivals in the #38 are on the front row. With just four points splitting them, it will be a tense six-hours. AF Corse have pole for the last race, but not with the championship contending car. In the Am class, #98 Aston Martin Racing may very well be on their way to claiming their first title after claiming another pole position this season.

Porsche led a one-two into the final practice session of the weekend, giving them an edge before the teams took on qualifying. It was a fairly calm 60-minutes for the LMP1 teams, with Timo Bernhard setting his time board-topping 1:42.438 within the first five minutes of the session. No one seemed to be able to close in on that time, with the closest being Neel Jani in the sister car, six tenths off the pace.

But this was not the case in qualifying. Toyota used a strategy that saw them leaving the pits five minutes after everyone else in an attempt to get some clear track. It worked, and Mike Conway set the first sub 1m40s lap time of the weekend with a 1:39.517. It was clear after Porsche’s second drivers had climbed in the cars it was going to be a big ask to get them ahead of the Toyotas.

But Jani was determined to give the Porsche one last pole position. Pushing the car to the limit, he produced a lap time that even his team mates were astounded by, putting the #1 in close contention with the proivional pole-sitting #7 Toyota. Nick Tandy climbed back into the Porsche cockpit, with pressure on his shoulders, with the mind set of not letting Jani’s lap time go to waste. A small personal improvement saw the #1 Porsche take its final pole position by just over two tenths of a second.

The sweltering heat of Bahrain played its hand on the LMP2 field this morning, with both the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing and the #36 Signatech Alpine bringing out a brief Full Course Yellows as they slowed and stopped on track. The Jackie Chan DC Racing cars seemed best equipped for the high morning track temperatures as they secured their first one-two of the weekend, also being the first time either of their cars have been fastest in a practice session this weekend. The 1:48.879 set by Ho Pin Tung in the #38 gave them half a second advantage on the rest of the field. After battling with the #37 for second place, G-Drive Racing #26 had to settle for third.

The #36 got back on top of the pace after it’s earlier issue and put in an impressive lap average to take pole by four tenths. Gustavo Menezes declared that team mate Andre Negrao had “pulled the boat along” with his lap time, making Menezes job simple when he got in the car.

Lining up beside them tomorrow will be the #38 Jackie Chan car. A bad qualifying for both Vaillante Rebellions sees the #38 crew on the front foot going into the race. Just four points separate the two and with the #31 Rebellion starting four sixth it is going to need to be the recovery drive of all drives from Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost and Julien Canal if they are to secure the 2017 LMP2 Trophy.

After a short red flag period brought out by the #86 Gulf Racing Am Porsche, which caught fire and stopped on track at Turn 9 – leaking fluid, the GTE classes were in qualifying simulation mode for the end of free practice three. The leaders of both classes changed every lap, with lap times tumbling as the end of the session drew closer. James Calado put the #51 AF Corse fastest with a 1:57.972, ahead of championship rival Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. The second AF Corse Ferrari, #71, rounded off the top three, half a second off the sister car.

Qualifying quickly became a Ferrari affair with consistent laps from the #71 AF Corse pair too much for anyone else to contend with. The prediction had been that the two Astons would be fighting for pole position in the final qualifying session, but in the end there was no stopping Sam Bird and Davide Rigon who had struggled throughout the practice sessions.

Andy Priaulx was set to place his championship contending #67 second on the row, but the weekend’s rapid Adam put an early end to that, dropping in a lap time that was quick enough to demote the team. Harry Tincknell said after the session that they were happy with the performance, but that it was all to play for tomorrow. As the underdogs for the championship now, they have the least to lose in the race, but starting ahead of the other championship contenders is definitely a positive.

James Calado explained that they were focused on the race in the championship leading #51. He said that they were happy starting from fourth and were looking to have a nice, simple race to get them back home to the championship. If the race finished with the grid positions as they have qualified, there would not be enough of a points gain for the #67 to take the title. Porsche GT Team #91 starts further down the grid and has the most to do tomorrow if they want any chance of stealing the title.

It had looked like the #98 Aston Martin Racing car was going to take its first fastest lap of the weekend, but it did not seem to be able to keep up when the fast laps started pouring out at the end of the session. Glory went to the #61 Clearwater Racing team that has recently confirmed it’s return to WEC for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. Championship contending #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was second, with the #54 Spirit of Race taking third.

After it’s earlier fire, the #86 car sat out of qualifying, using the time to repair the car so it will be ready for the race tomorrow. It was Paul Dalla Lana’s day as his second driver lap pulled the #98 ahead of the #61 Clearwater Ferrari that had looked to have pole position in the bag. In terms of championship battles it’s a positive for the Aston Martin as now they take an 11-point advantage into the final six-hour endurance of the season, making it harder for Dempsey-Proton to steal the title from under their nose. The trio have come close to taking the title in the past, but this would be the first time they had actually secured it if all goes their way in tomorrow’s race.

Thursday brought about the first two practice sessions of the last race for the 2017 World Endurance Championship. Albeit close, Toyota Gazoo Racing had the edge over Porsche LMP1 Team in both sessions and finished the day with two one-twos in their back pocket. There was a mix of teams at the top of LMP2, but Vaillante always featured, giving them a good advantage heading towards the race. Aston Martin Racing surged after their recent few race slumps, with Jonny Adam charging the #97 to an impressive finish. The Am championship fight looked to be on in the first practice session, but the Ferrari-running teams shone in the second.

Toyota are pushing hard to take their third win in a row and fifth of the season. If they manage this, they will have won more races than Porsche this season without winning the championship, showing how important double points at Le Mans may be. Porsche always remained close to Toyota today, but Toyota’s half a second advantage in both sessions suggests they may have pole position in the bag. It should still be a close battle for the race win if early indicators are anything to go by.

The #7 took glory for Toyota after a horrid end to their 6 Hours of Shanghai last time out. Mike Conway set a 1:42.313 at the start of the first session that was enough to keep them at the top of the board. Anthony Davidson took fastest lap in the cooler second session with a 1:40.095. The Porsche also swapped order between sessions, with the #1 taking third in session one and the #2 taking third this evening.

In the second session, Earl Bamber and #26 G-Drive Racing newbie Leo Roussel had a moment of contact at Turn 11. The pair were summoned instantly to the race stewards at the end of the session to discuss what happened. It is unclear exactly what happened out on track and who is in danger of being penalised. At the time of publishing, no verdict had been given.

Vaillante Rebellion were the team to try and beat in LMP2, looking to be favourites to take race victory on Saturday. The #13 kept the #26 G-Drive at bay in the first session to secure a fastest lap of 1:48.707. The #31 had looked to have a poor first practice session, but resolved that when Bruno Senna put in a staggering 1:47.664, a clear six tenths fastest than the sister car. With a one-two in the second session, it is looking ominous for the Rebellion team to be the ones to beat come race day.

The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing championship-challenging car had a bit of a quiet day, ending the first session seventh. They came back in the second session to take third behind the Rebellion pair. Having lost the championship lead for the first time of the season last race, the #38 team are fighting to take back the four points to take the LMP2 trophy at the end of the season, something they had thought was theirs until last race.

GTE Pro is looking as close as it has done all year, with three different manufacturers featuring in the top three at the end of the first session. In the cooler track conditions, the grid settled into a two-by-two order which is hopefully something that will not be repeated when the race goes dark just after the start of the six-hour race.

James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, leading the GT Drivers’ World Endurance Championship, ended the earlier session fastest, with Aston Martin’s Adam placing the #97 just behind them. Ex-championship leaders Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell managed to improve to third after an oil leak in their Ford that put a 36-miunte red flag delay on the first session. The additional 30 minutes that were added to the first session to make up for lost time definitely helped the Ford team get back on track.

In the second session, Adam was back on a mission, taking the wheel from team mate Darren Turner for a couple of laps to set a breath-taking 1:57.014. No teams could get close to that time, not even the sister car that had to settle for second, four-tenths off. Sam Bird in the third-placed AF Corse #71 was a further half a second off Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, nearly a full second off Adam’s time.

Aston Martin’s pace should be a cause for concern for the other three teams who are fighting for the championship. The better they place, the harder it will be for Ford and Porsche to stop AF Corse claiming the title. On the flip side, Aston Martin are pushing hard to have a perfect race for the Vantage’s last outing, so a send off in victory would be a fantastic way to end this era’s Vantage’s racing career.

It seems, from today’s practice sessions, that the Dempsey-Proton Racing car may have an advantage on the #98 Aston Martin. To win the championship, the #77 must win and take pole whilst the #98 has to finished third or lower. Ten points separate the two teams with the Aston Martin ahead after taking race win last race out at Shanghai.

However, Ferrari could play a part in the championship decider after showing they may have a better pace in the night, when the track is cooler. Ferrari-running cars Clearwater Racing #61 and Spirit of Race #54 took one-two for the manufacturer respectively. If they can get between the Porsche and the Aston Martin fighting for the Am title, they could help or hinder either of the car’s chances.

It has now been confirmed that Porsche will be leaving the LMP1 category in World Endurance Championship at the end of the season. Rumours had been circulating the team at the 6 Hours of Nurburgring, where Team Principle Andreas Seidl stated the team would decide on its future later this month. Porsche released a statement on their website this morning to confirm that 2017 would be the final season they would participate in LMP1 as they were turning their attention to enter the 2019 Formula E season.

In the statement posted to their website, Michael Steiner, a member of the executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG, stated that is was the “growing freedom for in-house technology development [that] makes Formula E attractive to us.

“Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts. For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.

“We want to be number one. To do that, we must invest accordingly.”

Since their return to sports car racing in 2014, Porsche has had a lot of success in the LMP1 team. In their first year, they almost challenged Audi Sport for the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Since then, the team has gone on to take three consecutive Le Mans victories and look to be set to take their third consecutive Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles at the end of the season in November.

“Building up the Le Mans team from scratch was a huge challenge.” Fritz Enzinger said on the Porsche statement. “Over the years, we have developed an incredibly successful and professional team. This will be our basis going forward.

“I am certain that we will maintain our high level in Formula E. Confidence is high, and we are excited to get started”

Porsche had claimed that they will keep the LMP1 team together, with the six factory drivers staying on board, but which capacity has not been clarified. Along with this, the team will still run their GT programme, with the newly developed 911 RSRs in both the WEC and International Motor Sport Association.

The announcement for Porsche to leave the WEC and join a fully electric race series comes days after the announcement that diesel and petrol cars will be banned from the roads in the UK and France from 2040. Whether or not this has anything to do with Porsche decision to leave the Hybrid racing series behind is unknown. Volkswagen are also still in a lot of financial issues from the “dieselgate” debacle which was one of the main reasons Audi pulled out of the series last year.

Toyota Gazoo Racing have commented on Porsche’s decision to leave the LMP1 class, saying that it is “unfortunate” the German manufacture has left the sport. There has been no comment on Toyota’s future plans in the WEC. If they stay next season, as they are contracted to, they will be the only competitors in the LMP1-H class.

It is clear that the WEC is not happy with Porsche’s sudden decision to leave WEC for Formula E. Before Porsche withdrew at the end of last week, both LMP1 teams – Porsche and Toyota Gazoo Racing – had confirmed commitment to participating in LMP1 until the end of 2018: “[Porsche] recently confirmed its participation in the FIA LMP1-H World Endurance Championship as a manufacturer up to the end of the 2018 season, and which has been actively involved in the development of the technical regulations that will come into force in 2020.” Toyota were clear that they were not going to make any comments about Porsche departure from the sport, but they have conceded that they only agreed to stay in the sport until the end of 2018 as they believed they would have factory competition. With this revelation, now not even Toyota have binding commitment after then end of this year.

However, as there were rumours at the 6 Hours of Nurburgring that Porsche would not see past the end of the year in LMP1, the WEC and ACO have not been caught napping at the announcement of this news. There is already work underway to make sure the 2018 season is “a season which promises to be quite exceptional thanks to the introduction of new innovations.” Some of the regulations changes that were supposed to be coming in in 2020 are now being brought forward, with some changes due to come into effect as early as next year. WEC will make an announcement at the 6 Hours of Mexico about the new plan for the LMP1-H class for 2018.

WEC’s main concern will be to keep Toyota on board net year, but with no one to race against there needs to be a very good reason for Toyota to stay.

If Toyota were to leave there would no longer be an hybrid field in the WEC. This could be detrimental to the series as, with automotive vehicles becoming greener, the hybrid technology is the closest to road car technology for the future in the field.

The WEC ended their statement by putting stress on the fact that cost and stability reduction, and inventiveness and audacity held the key to getting more manufacturers into the sport. This backs up Toyota’s claims that if the technical factor of the cars was reduced to save cost they would walk away from the LMP1 class.

Right now, WEC’s priority must be keeping Toyota in WEC, but the question that remains is how are they going to do that when there are no longer any competitors for Toyota to try and beat?

Porsche took a dominant one-two around their home race at the Nurburgring. Toyota Gazoo Racing had no respose as, after leading for most of the first hour, the Porsches disappeared with nearly a lap lead. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing LMP2 car also had an easy race to victory. None of the other cars could close in the gap to challenge for the win, so the team converted their inherited pole position into the race victory. The GTE classes delivered the predicted Porsche/Ferrari battles. Ferrari came out on top in the Pro class with the #51 AF Corse whilst Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 did a splendid job for their first victory of the season.

The action of the race started before the green flag dropped as disaster hit the #8 Toyota. On the formation lap, Sebastien Buemi had a fuel pump failure that saw the team bringing the car into the pits to replace the part. This instantly turned their race into one of damage limitation as they fought back from the back of the grid. They ended five laps down but managed to classify fourth overall, only losing 13 points to their championship rivals in the Porsche #2.

The LMP1 race very quickly became a inter-team battle as Porsche clearly have a pace advantage with their high aerodynamic kit. Due to pick pick ups of rubber the two Porsche were suffering from aero degradation that created a “yo-yo” effect for which car was leading. Both of the cars were evenly matched pace wise and presented a fantastically close race to the chequered flag. Just 1.6 seconds separated Timo Bernhard and Andre Lotterer as the chequered flag fell.

For the first time this season, both LMP1 teams were running the high-downforce aero packages on their cars. It became clear by the end of the 6 Hours of Nurburgring that Porsche had a pace advantage over Toyota Gazoo Racing with this aero kit. Toyota will need to spend some time over the summer trying to improve that if they wish to have any chance of catching Porsche or fighting them for the World Endurance Championships.

The race behind the #38 was where the action was in the LMP2 class. Nicolas Lapierre once again showed his speed with some fantastic stints for the #36 Signatech Alpine that helped Gustavo Menezes, Tristian Gommendy and he get third place in class. Gommendy’s stints in the middle of the race were also a big contributing factor to help Lapierre pass and extend a lead from the #13 Vaillante Rebellion crew.

Rebellion had shown they had a strong pace behind the #38 car. Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Filipe Alburquerque drove to a competitive second place whilst the sister #13 battled valiantly with the #36 and the #37 that challenged for their then third place in class. The #13 finished just off the podium in fourth place.

Although a difficult final race for the team, the #4 ByKolles Racing did see the chequered flag, classifying 14th overall. From their side of things, the race was fairly uneventful and they had an incident and garage time-free six hour race to the flag. Only one car retired from the race. The #35 Signatech Alpine suffered damage that would have taken too long to repair. They dropped out of the race just before the halfway point.

The thrilling track battles came from the GTE classes. AF Corse and Porsche GT Team had a tough battle for the lead of class in the first hour. Frederic Makowiecki came out on top of that battle to see the Porsche get ahead. However, around the halfway mark James Calado pulled off a stunning move passed the then-leading #91 Porsche GT to claim the class victory. There looked like there would be another inter-team battle between Porsches as Kevin Estre was closing in on the sister car #92 with Richard Lietz on board. However there were not enough laps for Estre to demote Lietz and Makowiecki off the second step of the podium.

At the back of the grid was the battle of BoP. Championship rivals #97 Aston Martin Racing and #67 Ford Chip Ganassi kept ending up nose to tail on track. However, it is assumed that the BoP advantage Aston had coming into this weekend gave them a pace advantage on the straights. Daniel Serra kept both the #66 and #67 at bay for a long duration of time by driving defensively and using the extra pace they had on the straights to get far enough ahead that Ford could not challenge them. Olivier Pla had to get very clever with his driving line, compromising his entrance into corner to get a much better exit to try and get closer to the Aston so their pace advantage did not matter.

In the end, the #67 lead the trio over the line, taking up fifth, sixth and seventh in class. This gives Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx an extra four points in the championship battle with Darren Turner, Jonny Adam and Daniel Serra as we head into the summer break.

The fight for the lead in Am was exhilarating from green flag to chequered. From pole, the #98 Aston Martin Racing car of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda lead the way, gaining just over a minute advantage on the field by the 90-minute mark. But Porsche and Ferrari had proven through the practice sessions that they has better pace this weekend, and the race was no exception. Matteo Cairoli was a man on a mission as he chased down the #98 in the second half of the race. With a better pace, he managed to pass the Aston Martin and extend a competitive lead to the end of the race.

But Miguel Molina also saw his opportunity this weekend. Within the final hour of the race, Molina in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari was in hot pursuit of at least a podium, if not the class win. He deposited the Clearwater Racing #61 with ease before chasing down Dalla Lana for the second step of the podium. The Aston Martin had no power in which to stop the rapid pace of the Spanish driver and he cut down an 18 second lead to a 4.6 second lead in 30 minutes. Had there have been an extra five minutes of the race the Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the Spirit of Race Ferrari would at least crossed the line nose to tail.

After Porsche dominated Friday, Saturday belonged to Toyota. Taking the fastest lap in final practice and in qualifying, Jose Maria Lopez helped take the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing car to pole position for the 6 Hours of Nurburgring. The close fights for pole position continued down the field, with the biggest advantage a pole sitter had was 0.4 seconds. Both the #26 G-Drive Racing and the #98 Aston Martin Racing cars continue to have an unbroken streak of pole positions this season, whilst Porsche GT Team made it four different manufacturers on pole in Pro in the first four rounds.

Lopez was a man on a mission after returning to the #7 car for the first time since his crash at the 6 Hours of Silverstone. He proved to the team why he should be in that car by taking the fastest lap in both free practice three and qualifying. Giving Kamui Kobayashi a two-tenth advantage on the second-placed Porsche #2 at the driver change over, it was a nice simple job for the Japanese driver to set a relative lap time that gave them pole position.

Timo Bernhard tried his hardest to close the gap on the Toyota team, but traffic meant he could get Brendon Hartley and his average lap time any closer than 0.154 seconds. The advantage for the #2 car is that it was not their championship rival Toyota who took the pole position point today, and tomorrow they have the sister Porsche between them. Hartley stated that he hoped team orders would not come into play with so much of the season left, but it can be assumed that Porsche will not risk their championship-contending car losing points to Toyota if they can manipulate the situation.

The qualifying session for the #8 Toyota was a messy one which cost them in the fight for pole. Although the car had been set-up with more focus on the race, as Anthony Davidson told Speed Chills, LMP2 traffic hindered the majority of their session. Davidson’s teammate Kazuki Nakajima was nearly driven off the track by #35 Signatech Alpine driver Nelson Panciatici. Exiting Bilstein Curve, the LMP2 driver ran Nakajima wide, looking like he had not seen the LMP1 car before swerving away. The #35 has picked up a 30 second stop/go for the incident.

The drama did not stop there. Davidson went on to explain to Speed Chills that as he was starting his flying lap another LMP2 car came out of the pits, traveling much slower than Davidson, and drifted onto racing line. This compromised Davidson’s fast lap and contributed to the #8 Toyota only managing a fourth-place start, half a second off the pace. Davidson was not happy about the way the LMP2s had driven in the qualifying session, saying that the drivers needed to learn to “Look in their mirrors.”

Aside from the incidents with the #8 Toyota, the racing in the LMP2 class for pole position was between #26 G-Drive and the Le Mans-winning #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car. Oliver Jarvis was pushing hard to try and close in on the #26, but the G-Drive team proved once again why they have had four consecutive pole positions. The astounding pace of Pierre Thiriet and Ben Hanley, standing in for Alex Lynn who is in New York for Formula E, gave G-Drive Racing their 20th WEC pole position. However, the #26 G-Drive failed scruteneering after qualifying had finsihed because their front barge board was at too steep of an angle. This means that the car will start at the back of the grid, whilst #38 jackie Chan DC Racing inherits its first class pole position of the season and Vaillante Rebellion hold a strong two-three.

The GTE Pro Le Mans-winning Aston Martin had a bad qualifying session as the team ended up at the back of the class. Multiple infringements for track limits saw lap time after lap time deleted for the team, meaning they could only get an average 1.3 seconds off the time of the pole-sitting #92 Porsche GT Team. This was a positive thing for GT Drivers’ and Team Championship leaders in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi car. With a small disadvantage due to a heavier BoP, Ford have appeared to be on the back foot all weekend. It was a surprise when Olivier Pla managed to jump the #66 up to fastest in class in the final moments of free practice three this morning. The #67 did not have the best qualifying, but they will start ahead of the #97 Aston Martin tomorrow, meaning they have a track advantage. If they can keep the British team behind them they will extend their championship lead before the summer break.

It was an impressive performance from Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre in the #92 Porsche. The Porsche 911 RSRs have been the cars to beat this weekend and look to be in for a tight fight with the AF Corse Ferraris tomorrow. Their pole position today means that all four of the manufacturers in the GTE Pro class this year have taken pole position this season. Four different pole sitters in four races just proves how close the fight between the GT cars is this year. The pole position is also the first for the new Porsche 911 RSR so a great achievement for the team.

The sole Aston Marin in GTE Am performed spectacularly in qualifying. Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana are the qualifying duo for the team and did not disappoint as they took to the track to take their fourth consecutive pole position of the season. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, however, cannot be overlooked ahead of tomorrow’s race. The team pushed hard, keeping the pressure on the Aston Martin to the chequered flag. With the two going wheel-to-wheel in tomorrow’s race, the Am class holds the potential for some fantastic on track battles. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE has also been very quick so far this weekend. Stating from third, the team could really muscle into the fight for class victory.

The entire grid was very close on pace today, showing that there should be some tight fights come tomorrow’s six-hour endurance event. Make sure to follow @SpeedChillsView on twitter for live updates from trackside as the race unfolds.

Lights out for the 6 Hours of Nurburgring is at 13:00 CEST.

Both Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber have shown that the Porsche 919-Hybrid has a competitively strong pace ahead of this weekend’s 6 Hours of Nurburgring. The Porsche #2 has led both session at the chequered flag, whilst the #1 gave Porsche a one-two as the day came to a close. Aston Martin may have a BoP advantage this weekend, but so far it is yet to be shown. The GT classes, both in Am and Pro, look close on a pace basis. This will hopefully promise some spectacular racing come the six-hour event on Sunday.

Toyota Gazoo Racing appeared to be on the back foot in the afternoon session of practice. They kept the competition close in the morning, with just three-tenths of a second separating the four LMP1 Hybrid cars, but in the cooler temperatures of the afternoon they could not keep up with Porsche. They were a clear second off the pace in free practice two, and even when Anthony Davidson climbed aboard with a few minutes left he was unable to close the gap to the Porsches ahead.

ByKolles had a troubled session in the morning, spending most of it in the garage and only getting six laps on the board, but the second practice session looked to be an improvement for the team. This will be the last race that ByKolles compete in as they are taking the second half of the season to test and develop their car ahead of the 2018 season. This decision was made before Le Mans as ByKolles feel they are not currently prepared enough, nor would they be prepared enough if they completed the full season, to take on the new LMP1 Privateers that are joining the field next year.

Vaillante Rebellion looked to be strong once again. They set the pace in the first practice session and were only two-tenths off the pace-setting #26 G-Drive Racing in the second practice session. However, at the end of the first practice session, the #31 Rebellion made contact with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche. Both cars were fastest of their respective classes when the contact happened. With only four minutes left on the clock the red flag brought out a premature chequered flag, not allowing for any late improvements.

But the incident caused some internal damage to the #31 which meant that they were unable to participate in the second practice session. The two teams were called into the stewards office but no further action will be taken with either team. The left side pod of the #31 was damaged and the front of the #77 was damaged, suggesting that the #77 hit the side of the #31. The #31 was also seen in the barrier at the entrance of the pit lane.

Although the advantage was predicted to be with Aston Martin due to their lighter BoP, it has been Ferrari and Porsche dominating the Am class. The field is close, with only half a second covering the entire class at the end of Free Practice One, so the racing come Sunday is predicted to be intense. Aston Martin Racing has finished both sessions fourth in class so they will be looking for some improvement during the final practice session before qualifying.

The BoP advantage that Aston Martin believed to have at the start of the weekend has yet to be discovered by either the Pro or Am team. The first practice session saw the Aston duo at the back of the class field whilst AF Corse and Porsche GT Team battled for fastest lap. It seems that Porsche and Ferrari have an advantage in the GT classes and should be the ones to watch come race day.

The World Endurance Championship is back this weekend with more thrilling track action at the Nürburgring. The 24 Hours of Le Mans brought a spectacular race to the blue riband event and the fourth round of the championship promises to be just as gripping. With the championship battles closer than ever throughout all the classes in the WEC, the teams are going to more determined to take class victory as every point counts. As this is the last race before the summer break, the grid will be looking to end the first half of the season on a high and come back in Mexico with a positive mentality.

The disastrous Le Mans for the LMP1 class has seen the World Endurance Drivers’ Championship already narrowed down to being between two cars. This means that for the rest of the season both Toyota Gazoo Racing and Porsche will probably employ team orders to promote the #2 and #8 entrants to score more points. The closest LMP1 car to the lead battle is last year’s champion car with Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy onboard, 55 points behind.

Jackie Chan DC Racing had one of the best races of their career out in Le Mans. After the #13 Vaillante rebellion was disqualified for illegal alterations to the car’s bodywork, Jackie Chan DC Racing scored a double overall podium. This puts the overall second-place finishers of the #38 car in a comfortable lead in the LMP2 Drivers’ and Team Championships. However, it is still a battle between Rebellion and Jackie Chan Racing as the #31 team are 38 points of the Le Mans class winners. However, Rebellion’s main concern will be the #36 Signatech Alpine who sit third in the championship, only 10 points off them.

The last minute second place that #67 Ford Chip Ganassi inherited at the end of Le Mans has kept them ahead in the GT Drivers’ Championship. Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derrani lead the Le Mans GT Pro class winners of Jonny Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra for the lead of the championship by nine points. Aston Martin have gained an advantage this weekend as the automated BoP has come into action. They will be running lighter than the other competitors in their classes, which could aid them in taking the Championship lead.

Due to the amount of non-scoring LM GTE Am entrants at Le Mans, the 24-hour event did not cost the #98 Aston Martin Racing team too much. Although ending eighth in class, Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda were awarded points for fourth position, meaning they have only fallen six points behind the new Am Driver’s Trophy competitors #61 Clearwater Racing. With the BoP advantage that Aston Martin is supposed to have this weekend, the sole Aston Martin Am crew could get back ahead of the Ferrari-run team by the end of the weekend.

Coming back from a hybrid system issue early in the race which had looked to put them out of contention for the 2017 Le Mans podium, the #2 Porsche crew fought back to take a spectacular victory in one of the most eventful races Le Mans has ever held. Tagged as an ‘old school Le Mans’ race, there was never a dull moment as the 24 hours flew past. Eleven of the starters failed to complete the race, one of the lowest percents of non-finishers in a 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It had seemed like the race was over for the #2 Porsche crew when they were hit with a front axle drive failure around the four-hour mark, as it turns out, this was related to the hybrid system. The only way they would be able to recover the hour they had lost in the garage was if the entire LMP1 field suffered a delay as bad as they had. In a shocking twist in the middle of the night, two of the Toyotas retired from the race whilst the third Gazoo Racing entry was stuck in the pits for two hours. The bizarre twist of events saw the #2 up to second in class, albeit being about 45th in the overall classification.

The plan for the team changed as the #2 crew focused on trying to score constructors points for the team. Constructor’s points are handed out at Le Mans depending on where the car finishes in class clarification. For the driver’s championship, the points are given to the drivers depending on where they finish in the overall standings. With the Porsche #2 team knowing they were in a good place in class clarification they focused on having a clean safe race and getting it across the line at the chequered flag.

But Le Mans was not done with throwing up the twists and turns of the 24-hour endurance race. With only about three hours left on the clock, the Porsche #1 that had been leading by a comfortable 12 laps to the second-placed car (in the overall standings) dropped a lot of speed heading around Tertre Rouge. An oil pressure problem saw Andre Lotterer pulling over at the side of the Mulsanne Straight. As much as he tried to get the car back to the pits there was not enough battery power to limp back to the garage from where he was.

This changed the race for the #2 Porsche as they were suddenly the highest placed LMP1 car. Crunching the numbers, they worked out that with an amazingly fast and consistent pace they could potentially pass all the LMP2 cars that were ahead of them and take the overall victory. They predicted that they would reach the then-leading LMP2 by the last lap of the race, however, three amazing stints by Brendon Hartley saw the Porsche #2 in a position to take the lead from the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing with an hour of track time left.

The last hour was completely nerve-wracking for the #2 Porsche team. They had seen three of the five hybrid LMP1 cars retire instantly from the race and seen hybrid issues on the #8 as well as suffering hybrid issues themselves. There was a sense that Le Mans was not done with the LMP1 field and until Timo Bernhard took the chequered flag no one in the Porsche garage would believe that they had won the 85th running of Le Mans.

The Toyota #8 was the only other LMP1 car to actually classify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It seemed that the oppressive heat that descended over the Circuit de la Sarthe was affecting the hybrid systems of the LMP1 cars. Sebastien Buemi crossed the line to place the #8 ninth overall.

It was a tight battle in LMP2 for the leading #38 car to take the overall victory of Le Mans. They had been in a strong position throughout most of the latter part of the race. When the #1 retired there was a small sense of belief that they would take the overall victory, but Hartley’s rapid place made it clear quickly that Porsche was on a mission.

There was no challenge for the #38 for the LMP2 class victory. The real battle was between the #13 Vaillante Rebellion and the #35 Signatech Alpine as the race drew to a close. the #13 had the better race pace, but a starter motor failure saw them contending with extra long pit stops as they have to remove the back engine cover to manual kick the car into life.

#13 ended up taking second in class, which also meant they took the bottom step of the overall podium. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing was very close to taking the position from the Rebellion crew and showed great race pace in the latter stages of the endurance.

LMGTE Pro gifted one of the most intense wheel-to-wheel battles to the line for the victory in class. Over the last few hours of the race, the battle had been between Corvette Racing and Aston Martin Racing to take the class lead. Pit stops were shuffling the order and usually saw the Aston on top at the end of the hour as they pitted first.

As the final hour ticked down, Jonny Adam was half a second off the back of the #63 Corvette Racing, then in the hands of Jordan Taylor. Adam tried to make a move work going into Arnage but going up the inside of the corner meant he went very deep on exit. He held the lead for a brief moment before Taylor took it back with ease.

An assumed brake failure saw Taylor go straight on over one of the chicanes down the Mulsanne and pull a big advantage out on Adam. In terms of fair racing, Taylor dropped off the speed a little to reduce the advantage he had and make sure there was nothing he could be penalised.

Adam was very clever as they headed through the final sector of the track. He kept his lines very tidy and clean, making sure he had the perfect run off of the Ford Chicane. Taylor had been trying to defend and left the racing line for Adam to use to produce a beautiful overtake for the lead of the class.

Once Adam was passed, Taylor suffered a failure on his car that was either a brake failure or a puncture as a result of his excurtion through the Mulsanne gravel traps. As it was the final lap, Taylor drove carefully and tried hard to push the car to the finish whilst trying to hold onto his second position. But Harry Tincknell had been racing in the Ford Chip Ganassi #67 with a pace that would see him in the right place if one of the cars ahead of him had an issue. Knowing Taylor was vulnerable, Tincknell pushed hard for the last lap of the race, demoting Taylor to third in class as he took a deeply deserved second in class.

The Am class podium saw a Ferrari domination. The #84 JMW Motorsport put on an amazing performance that saw them take class victory with at least a lap’s advantage over the rest of the field. Spirit of Race #55 Ferrari finished second with the last Ferrari on the podium being the #62 Scuderia Corsa.

Aston Martin looked strong at the beginning of the race. The #98 Aston Martin Racing was leading the class at the beginning of the race before a tyre blow out saw them in the garage for a while with repairs, dropping them down the order. The #90 TF Sport was also looking like it could challenge the Ferraris for a podium finish, but a mistake in the middle of the night put the car in the barrier. Again, repairs in the garage saw it fall down the order.

The best finishing Aston Martin in class was the #99 Beechdean AMR. It finished just off the podium in fourth, an admirable effort considering it is only the second time the team has raced Le Mans and they had a rookie driver on the team.

Disaster struck for Toyota through the night as two of their three cars retired from the race. There were many incidents that kept the night running action-packed and a few shocking events that no one could have predicted. Going into the seventeenth hour of racing, the #1 Porsche leads the field by a competitive eleven laps, with the closest LMP1 car being the sister Porsche down in P10.

Toyota’s woes started when the #8 was forced into the garage with a hybrid issue. It lost just under two hours in the garage as extensive repairs took place, dropping it right down the order to the last of the running cars.

But the #8’s reappearance was nearly lost in the shock of seeing the leading #7 Toyota lapping slowly. There had been a safety car period to clear some gravel and debris off the dark track, and once the safety cars had pulled in Kamui Kobayashi got stuck in gear with the Toyota unable to go any faster than 60kph. The Japanese driver tried many power cycles and limping the #7 as far as he could but he could not get any closer to the pits that Porsche Curves. Sheer disappointment was clear as Kobayashi climbed from the car, retiring from the race before the halfway mark.

That was not the end of the disappointment for Toyota. With the #7 retired and the #8 a long way off the leaders, their hope all felt to the #9. Not even ten minutes after the #7 had retired, the #9 made contact with the #25 CEFC Manor TDS Racing and picked up a rear right puncture. Nicolas Lapierre tried to get the car back to the pits for repairs but the punctured tyre caused a lot of damage to the back of the car and cause the rear to catch on fire. Lapierre, cruelly, got much closer to pit lane than Kobayashi did and was only 200 yards from pit entry when he climbed from the cockpit.

After having lead most of the first half of the race with a competitive pace, Toyota fell to only having one car on track and it being right at the back of the field. The #25 Manor retired instantaneously as heavy contact with the tyre barrier put a lot of damage on the ORECA 07-Gibson.

This left #1 Porsche in the lead with an 11 lap gap to the next car on track and a big gap to the next LMP1 car. The #2 crew and the #8 team have been pushing hard through the night to try and get back up the grid into a competitive position and to take as many points home from the weekend as possible. the #2 is currently in 10th whilst the #8 is behind in 15th.

#38 Jackie Chan DC Racing took over the lead of LMP2 in the hands of Oliver Jarvis on track, using a great strategy and the safety car periods to leap the two Vaillante Rebellions. The Rebellions seem to have lost their edge through the night as little issues and brief visit to the garage have seen them drop further behind the #38, giving the leading LMP2 around a lap advantage.

A big incident saw the #92 Porsche GT Team join the growing list of retired cars. In the middle of the night, it lost the car at Ford Chicane and made contact with the tyre barrier. Repairs on the barrier and removing the car from the track were the reasons behind the slow zones and yellow flags. Unfortunately, the Porsche could not get running again so it retired behind the barrier at the side of the track.

Aston Martin had been the team to beat throughout the night, but as the sun has broken across the track the top four positions in class are covered by four different manufacturers. With the weather supposed to hot up for the closing stages of the race, it could go any way for the chequered flag.

#90 TF Sport and #84 JMW Motorsport have had fantastic performances throughout the race, with the JMW now leading the class with a lap in hand. The #90 had been pushing #84 for the lead but after a scheduled brake change and an unscheduled brief stop out on track the #90 down the order, leaving the #99 Beechdean AMR as the best placed Aston Martin. Ferrari-running teams are currently locking out the top three positions in the Am class.

For a brief session at the beginning of the race, the #7 Toyota lost the lead to the sister #8 car, but apart from that the #7 Toyota has led the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first six hours. Vaillante Rebellion has been commanding the field in LMP2 after the pole-sitting #26 G-Drive Racing had a terrible start that led to an early retirement from the race. Aston Martin have been the teams to beat in the GTE classes but they have not run away with the pace, with Ferrari and Ford keeping the teams on their toes.

It seemed to be an easy six hours for the #7 Toyota as all three drivers have climbed aboard to competitively lead the race. Neel Jani made quick work of overtaking Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota to steal second place and split the Toyotas. Buemi did fight back and keep the pressure on Jani, but after the first driver changes Anthony Davidson seemed unable to keep up with Nick Tandy in the Porsche #1.

Issues have plagued a couple of the LMP1 cars. The #9 had an issue with their door not closing and was forced to make an extra stop in the fifth hour so the team could try and resolve the issue. At the time of publishing, the door was no longer an issue.

But disaster struck for the #2 Porsche as a front axle drive failure forced the car into the garage. The team lost nearly an hour of the race sitting in the garage as the team did an incredibly quick job of replacing the entire front unit of the car. At the time of publishing, Brendon Hartley was in the car pushing for damage limitation with the car down in an overall 55th position.

The ByKolles looked to have a strong start by before the end of the first lap it suffered a rear left puncture. Having to pit so early saw it fall down the order but a suspected engine failure saw the car become the second official retiree of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans in the second hour.

The first official retiree of the race was the #88 Proton Competition Porsche. After having a bad start and a spin at the Ford Chicane, pole-sitting #26 G-Drive Racing was pushing hard to recover lost positions. Misjudging the space between the two cars, Roman Rusiov got the overtake on the #88 wrong and sent both cars into the barriers at the Porsche Curves. Both cars, with significant damage, made it back to the pits as slow zones covered the Porsche Curves area for barrier repairs. However, neither of them had repairable damage and both cars retired from the race.

The misfortune for the #26, which dropped down the field on the start lap, handed the advantage to Vaillante Rebellion, who has led the class since the second hour. The CEFC Manor TDS Racing #24 has been keen to challenge for a top two spot but has yet to get any higher than third in class. #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing is also battling up the front of the class and all four cars are looking strong as the first quarter of the race is complete.

At the start of the race, the Aston Martins pulled an advantage on the GTE fields, but the Ferrari-running teams were hot on their heels. As the day has begun to cool as the evening running gets underway, the Ferraris have fallen off a little and the battle in Pro is now between the Fords and the Aston Martin. Harry Tincknell had a mega lap that has seen the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car in strong contention for a podium position.

The #66 Ford was looking good for a high position but an early issue with the rear light forced the car to pit out of sequence for a quick repair. The car is still lapping with the top of the class, but the advantage is with the other cars around it as it has to pit after the other LM GTE Pro cars have taken their pits.

Ferrari had an impressive stint around the third hour in the Am class, with a Ferrari one-two-three led by Will Stevens in the JMW Motorsports #84. The JMW Motorsports entry is still running strong at the sharp end of the class but Aston Martin has come back with a strong pace from the works #98 car. It’s an impressive performance from the #90 TF Sport crew who, at the time of publishing, were running third in class.

Four cars have been lost in the first quarter of the race, with the fourth retiree coming in the closing stages of the fifth hour. Matthieu Vaxiviere lost the car under braking for the Forza Motorsport Chicane and side swiped the #82 Risi Competitione. The #82 was spun into the Armco barrier, which suffered a lot of damage, and destroyed the front of the Ferrari 488 GTE. It retired on the spot as the marshals lifted the stricken car off of the racetrack.

The #28 TDS Racing was undamaged from the incident. The LMP2 team has received a 7-minute stop/go penalty for taking out the Risi Competitione.

With the 24 Hours of Le Mans getting underway later on this afternoon, the build up to one of the most important races of the year is almost over. Catching up with some of the drivers in their final preparation week for the prestigious event, Speed Chills got some exclusive quotes on the driver’s feelings before they embarked on the 24-hour endurance race.

Neel Jani showed great excitement before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but remained respectfully realistic when discussing his prospects for the race weekend, openly stating Porsche was “definitely not the favourites” to win. Coming from the Le Mans test where Toyota Gazoo Racing were competitively faster than Porsche has put the German team on the back foot. But they are still hopeful that over the 24 hours of racing the luck can fall their way.

“I think, for me, and it will be me and Timo doing the start, I think this will be the hardest point in the race probably for us.” Jani said, discussing what he believed would be the most trying part of the weekend. “I think we will also struggle more at the start than Toyota I think we will come when the evening comes. So yeah, Timo and I have the most difficult job at the start.”

However, at Toyota, Anthony Davidson was confident that Porsche were yet to show their hand and believed there would be more to come from the German outlet. “I’m expecting them to raise their game this week.” Davidson said assertively. “Especially for the race. Even if we don’t see anything in qualifying, just like Silverstone they didn’t try, but they knew they had a good car for the race probably and they did.”

Le Mans is one of the most important races in the World, a fact that is not lost on any of the drivers. Davidson added that Le Mans was his Mount Everest, stating that: “I may never get to the top but as long as I do the job I know I can do I’ll be happy.”

Andy Priaulx echoed the thoughts of Davidson in the importance of Le Mans and the extra pressure that the drivers feel in this race weekend. “Le Mans is one of the biggest races on the planet and you’ve got to try and win that.” Priaulx commented to Speed Chills on Wednesday morning. “I think you have to learn to live with a lot more pressure at Le Mans, from the manufacturers. There is a lot more focus on the win here.”

The Porsche #2 drivers Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley were equally as passionate about the importance and prestige of this race, with Hartley coining it as the “most important race of the year.”

Having won Le Mans once in the past (2010 – Audi), Timo Bernhard reflected on the feeling a Le Mans victory can give a driver. “Le Mans, to be honest, is the highlight of our year.” Bernhard smiled. “It has the most prestige. If you win Le Mans your year is already incredible, magic, I mean, there cannot be more to ask for.”

With so much riding on a win at Le Mans it is certain to be a spectacular race. With last year’s dramatic ending still clearly in people’s minds, it will be 24 hours of racing you will not want to miss a second of.

Make sure to be following @SpeedChillsView for LIVE updates and the latest throughout the 24 hours of racing as the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans unfolds.

The Toyota #7 crew never lost provisional pole throughout the three qualifying sessions, with Kamui Kobayashi setting a fantastically quick lap in the middle of Qualifying Two to take pole position for the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by a competitive 2.4 seconds. None of the other LMP1 teams could challenge the 3:14.791 lap time that broke the lap record Neel Jani set in 2015 by just over a second. Kobayashi himself was shocked that the lap time was in the 3m14s; he expected to set a 3m15s or 3m16s.

After a long delay due to having to change the engine after suffering an oil supply issue, the #8 Toyota crew took second on the grid, 2.4 seconds behind the record-breaking lap time. Sebastien Buemi came out at the start of Qualifying Three, having lost most of Qualifying Two to the engine change, and set a 3:17.128, going just a few hundredths of a second faster than Neel Jani’s lap time in the Porsche #1 to take a Toyota one-two. The third Toyota struggled on pace throughout yesterday’s evening sessions. After trying a variety of front noses Nicolas Lapierre could go no faster than a time that put the #9 fifth on the grid.

Porsche made improvements on their Wednesday qualifying times in the early evening session of running yesterday. Jani made an eight-tenth improvement on the sister car, qualified by Timo Bernhard, to move the #1 ahead of the #2 for third on the starting grid. Neither Porsche made improvements in the final qualifying session, but there was trouble for the #2 as the light faded last night. An overheating issue caused Brendon Hartley to pull the #2 Porsche off the track at Indianapolis and spend the remaining hour of the session trying to get the car running again so he could return to the pits. This would not be an issue Porsche would want to be faced with ahead of the 24-hour endurance race.

The #4 ByKolles had been at risk of starting behind some of the LMP2 cars as after Qualifying Two Vitaly Petrov’s provisional LMP2 pole time was faster than the time recorded by the ByKolles. Oliver Webb came out in the final session and improved to a 3:24.170 to place it sixth on the grid.

ORECA Dominates LMP2 Field

After holding onto provisional pole in class at the end of Qualifying One, #28 TDS Racing were unable to stay fastest and the battle for class pole was primarily between CEFC Manor TDS Racing, Vaillante Rebellion and Jackie Chan DC Racing. The #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing finished Qualifying Two on top with a 3:26.776, but that time was to be significantly beaten in Qualifying Three.

Since free practice, the #26 G-Drive Racing team had been lapping around with a low profile, not making too much of an impression in the second qualifying session. However, as the laps began getting faster in the night and Vitaly Petrov was leading the LMP2 field with a 3:25.549, G-Drive set Alex Lynn into the action. He did not disappoint, going two-tenths of a second faster and taking pole position with a 3:25.352.

The non-ORECA running LMP2 cars seem to be at a disadvantage this weekend as the ORECA 07 chassis has been competitively superior to the other chassis all week. The top nine in qualifying were locked out by ORECA-running teams, with the #27 SMP Racing being the first of the non-ORECAs in tenths. The time set by the #27 was a 3:27.782, showing a deficit of 2.5 seconds to the fastest ORECA machine.

There were many incidents with the LMP2 cars in yesterday evening’s running, with the #33 Eurasia Motorsports having a big shunt at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight – Forza Motorsport Chicane. The Armco barriers did their job at deflecting the energy and making sure Erik Maris was able to walk away from the incident unscathed, but this lead to a 50-minute delay in the session as extensive barrier repairs took place.

The other place of incident seemed to be Tertre Rouge. A few of the LMP2s got a wheel wide on the grass on entry of the corner, meaning that they had to correct the mistake to not end up in the gravel run off. The #28 TDS Racing machine was the car with the least amount of luck when making a mistake through this corner. Spinning the car, the TDS clipped the Armco barrier and spun into the gravel trap, causing damage to the barrier and bringing a ten-minute early end to Qualifying Two.

Aston Martin Pro Battle Closer than Expected

Aston Martin dominated both Qualifying One and Two in the Pro class and the Am class, and looked like they could only challenge themselves. The #95 and #97 Aston Martin Racing cars swapped provisional pole times throughout the Qualifying Two session. But as the end of qualifying drew closer the AF Corse Ferrari team began to show more pace.

James Calado and Sam Bird finished the session in the cars and were pushing hard to get some more ultimate pace out of the Ferrari 488 GTEs. The time set by Darren Turner was too much for the Ferrari to overcome and Calado had to settle for second in class. Richie Stanaway set the fast lap in the #95 Aston Martin, which, at the time, had looked like it, would be fast enough for pole position. He managed to fend off the second Ferrari of Bird and will take third on the grid.

Ford had looked like they had found some more pace in Qualifying Two, with the #69 Team USA entry holding provisional pole for a duration of time. But as the evening cooled off and the night running began they once again fell down the pack. The highest placed Ford for the race will be the #69 with a 3:51.232. Ford have seemed to close the gap since having a higher BoP added to their cars, with the gap to the pole sitter in class just over four-tenths.

It was in Qualifying Three that Aston Martin lost the advantage in the Am class. There was a big shuffle in the order at the beginning of the session that saw the Ferrari entrants look to be the favourites for pole. Will Stevens put the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE on provisional pole and it looked like there was no extra time out there for the other Am cars to beat it.

The Am class has been varied in class leaders throughout the beginning of the WEC season, and this was the case again for qualifying. Four different manufacturers filled the top four at the final chequered flag, with the returning #50 Larbre Competition Corvette taking the glory of pole with a 3:52.843. The Corvette was the only LM GTE Am car to break into the 3m52s, with Pedro Lamy four-tenths behind in the championship-leading Aston Martin #98.

Neel Jani put the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid at the top of the time sheets in FP1 in a session that ran without much incident. Kamui Kobayashi topped the time sheets with his first flying lap, going seven tenths quicker than anyone else with a time of 3:20.996 in the final hour of running. It looked like the time was going to stand but with 20 minutes to run, Jani went sixth tenths quicker with a time of 3:20.362.

Qualifying One saw Toyota Gazoo Racing top the time sheets to take provisional pole but it was Timo Bernhard who initially went quickest in the #2 Porsche after the first few flying laps. Toyota reacted instantly, pitting the #7 and #8 cars and sending out Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima. Kobayashi responded, setting the fastest lap of the session, going six tenths quicker than anyone else with a time of 3:18.793. Nakajima took second in a Toyota One-Two whilst Bernhard’s time was good enough for third place. Having set the pace in FP1, Neel Jani could only manage to put the #1 Porsche 5th. ByKolles had another difficult session, lapping just half a second quicker than the leading LMP2.

LMP2

Alex Lynn knocked the #13 Vaillante Rebellion off the top of the time sheets in FP1, the ex-GP2 driver posted a time of 3:30.363 in the #26 G-Drive, 1.3 seconds quicker than anyone else.

ORECA certainly appear to have a big advantage over the other competitors, the best non-ORECA car finished 10th. The SMP Racing Dallara in the hands of Victor Shaytar was over four seconds a lap slower. There was a close battle in qualifying between all the World Endurance Championship entrants. It looked as if Manor had the pace throughout the session as with just half an hour to run, Jean-Eric Vergne and Vitaly Petrov locked down the top two positions with the #25 and #24 cars. However, as time moved on and the temperature dropped, the rest of the field began fighting back. Bruno Senna broke in to the 3:29s before Vaxiviere went half a second quicker in the #28 TDS Oreca to take provisional pole with a time of 3:29.333. The Signatech Alpine entries sat sixth and seventh whilst the second Rebellion #13 finished eighth with Rusinov rounding out the top nine in the #26 G-Drive.

The fastest non-ORECA running LMP2 finished 13th and was the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara in the hands of Rubens Barrichello, taking part in his first Le Mans qualifying session. The Brazilian set a lap time that was 4.463 seconds off the pace of provisional pole-sitter, Vaxiviere.

GTE Pro

There was a last minute driver change in GTE Pro, Lucas di Grassi has been ruled out of the event on medical grounds having broken his fibula in a charity football match. di Grassi failed to get himself out of the car without assistance within the seven second time limit on the driver extraction test. Michele Rugolo has been drafted in to fill his vacant seat patterning James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.

#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 jumped to the top of the time sheets towards the end of free practice one. Aston Martin traded lap times with Corvette for most of the session before Bird put the Ferrari on top in the closing laps by half a second. James Calado pushed hard in the closing stages of the session to try and and match the pace of Bird but he was unable to match the time of 3:55.504.

Aston Martin jumped straight to the top in the first qualifying session, Marco Sorensen leading the way in the #95 with a time of 3:52.117, it was only a tenth quicker than Sam Bird but Birds team mates were unable to improve on his opening lap time leaving the #71 crew second at the end of the session. The #51 Ferrari came in 0.888 down on the pole sitting Aston but overall, just two seconds covered the top six.

GTE AM

The factory-entered Aston Martin led the time sheets early on, Mathias Lauda setting the early pace before the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette went quickest at the end of the first hour. The #50 Corvette had a moment through Porsche Curves early on in the second hour and slammed in to the tyre barrier on the outside of the track. The Safety Car was called out for minor repair work and the session restarted. The Clearwater Ferrari was leading the session, even after suffering a left-rear puncture at the end of the third hour. Just after the final hour had started, Pedro Lamy set a new fastest lap of 3:58.234 which allowed him to end the session on top of the class with the #98 Aston Martin.

Aston Martin also held the advantage from the start of the session in LM GTE Am. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche took the lead of the class for the first few minutes of the session, but as soon as Pedro Lamy had set his fast time there was no challenge to his 3:55.232. Only his team-mate, Mathias Lauda, could better the time, improving the Aston Martin #98’s provisional pole time to a 3:55.134.

Matteo Cairoli‘s original fastest time in the #77 was enough to hold on to a comfortable second place. He had a three-tenth advantage over third-placed #90 TF Sport Aston Martin when the chequered flag fell.

Toyota have lead the way in the official Le Mans test day ahead of the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Setting a lap time that was faster than the pole position time for last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota declared a pace that Porsche could not contend with. Last year’s LMP2 class champions Signatech Alpine were on top of things in their respective class, ending both the morning session and the day with the fastest LMP2 time. Returning to the WEC solely for Le Mans, Chevrolet made their mark by taking the fastest time in LM GTE Pro. Proton Racing #77 Porsche took the fastest lap in the Am class before lunch, with Aston Martin finishing the day on top of the class.

Coming off the back of a highly-competitive six hour of Spa-Francorchamps, Kazuki Nakajima reflected the same form he showed last month claiming the fastest time of the morning session. His 3:20.778 lap time was an impressive 1.5 seconds faster than the time set by Sebastien Buemi in the sister #7 car. Toyota locked out the top three, with Jose Maria Lopez setting a 3:22.006 in the #9 – a good effort in his debut around the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Timo Bernard had had the #2 Porsche comfortably second during the first four-hour session, but the last half an hour of fast laps from Toyota saw the Porsche drop to fourth, setting a fastest time of 3:23.089, 2.3 seconds off the pace of the fastest Toyota. Porsche did not complete any fast laps at the end of the session, showing they appeared to be on a different programme to Toyota. Andre Lotterer’s time was only half a tenth off of Bernhard’s, showing the Porsches appear to be equally matched.

In the afternoon session Toyota continued to steal the show. Kamui Kobayashi put the championship leading #7 Toyota fastest with a 3:18.132, a time that was over 1.5 seconds faster than Neel Jani’s 2016 pole time for the 24-hour event. The Toyota’s, once again, locked out the top three positions whilst Porsche ended the day 3.3 seconds off the fastest lap time, but only 0.4 seconds off third-placed #9 Toyota. The #2 Porsche lost time in the afternoon session as the engine was changed on the 919 Hybrid.

The Signatech Alpine #35 was the car to beat in LMP2 as it lead the way at the end of both test sessions. Andre Negrao put the ORECA-Gibson 07 fastest at the end of the morning session with the first LMP2 time to break the 3m30s barrier: a 3:29.809. His teammate, Nelson Panciatici, reiterated what Negrao had performed in the morning’s four-hour session by ending the day with the fastest time of 3:28.146. This gave him a seven-tenth advantage over Jean-Eric Vergne in the #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing, who ended the day second fastest in class.

In the morning, it was the #13 Vaillante Rebellion Racing that finished second fastest in the LMP2 class. Mathias Beche was nearly beaten to second in class by the ELMS-entry Graff car. Only 0.011 seconds kept Beche ahead of Richard Bradley as the chequered flag fell.

It does seem, from the final test day times, that the ORECA-chassis running LMP2 cars may have an advantage over any other chassis. The top fourteen cars in class were all ORECA-Gibsons when the chequered flag ended the day. However, all of the cars are a lot faster this year. The extra 100bhp that the LMP2 cars have this year have already seen them setting lap times seven seconds faster than they were twelve months ago.

Jan Magnussen returned Chevrolet to WEC racing with intent as he took the fastest lap time of the morning session in LM GTE Pro. It was a close fight between the #63 and the #91 Porsche for fastest lap time with 0.027 seconds separating Magnussen and Patrick Pilet at the end of the first four-hours testing. The sister Chevrolet rounded off the top three half a second down on the fastest pair.

The intention of Chevrolet is clear for this blue-ribboned event as they topped the afternoon session competitively. Oliver Gavin made it a Chevrolet leading a Porsche in the #64 with a lap time of 3:54.701. The #64 crew started the afternoon session with an engine change and was able to lead the class by just over two-tenths on the #91 Porsche.

Porsche took honours in LM GTE Am at the end of the morning session with the #77 Proton Racing Porsche leading the class with a 3:59.117. The time, set by Matteo Carioli, was a tenth up on second-fastest #83 AF Corse-run DH Racing Ferrari. In the afternoon session, however, it was Aston Martin on top, with Pedro Lamy setting the pace with a 3:58.250 in the #98. The Am field looks like it will be as close as it has been all season when the grid takes to the 24-hour endurance race in a fortnight’s time.

The afternoon session was ended twelve minutes early as there was dropped oil on track. It is unknown which car lost the liquid out on circuit.

Toyota have lead the way in the official Le Mans test day ahead of the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Setting a lap time that was fastest than the pole position time for last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota declared a pace that Porsche could not contend with. Last year’s LMP2 class champions Signatech Alpine were on top of things in their respective class, ending both the morning session and the day with the fastest LMP2 time. Returning to the WEC solely for Le Mans, Chevrolet made their mark by taking the fastest time in LM GTE Pro. Proton Racing #77 Porsche took the fastest lap in the Am class before lunch, with Aston Martin finishing the day on top of the class.

Coming off the back of a highly-competitive six hour of Spa-Francorchamps, Kazuki Nakajima reflected the same form he showed last month claiming the fastest time of the morning session. His 3:20.778 lap time was an impressive 1.5 seconds faster than the time set by Sebastien Buemi in the sister #7 car. Toyota locked out the top three, with Jose Maria Lopez setting a 3:22.006 in the #9 – a good effort in his debut around the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Timo Bernard had had the #2 Porsche comfortably second during the first four-hour session, but the last half an hour of fast laps from Toyota saw the Porsche drop to fourth, setting a fastest time of 3:23.089, 2.3 seconds off the pace of the fastest Toyota. Porsche did not complete any fast laps at the end of the session, showing they appeared to be on a different programme to Toyota. Andre Lotterer’s time was only half a tenth off of Bernhard’s, showing the Porsches appear to be equally matched.

In the afternoon session Toyota continued to steal the show. Kamui Kobayashi put the championship leading #7 Toyota fastest with a 3:18.132, a time that was over 1.5 seconds faster than Neel Jani’s 2016 pole time for the 24-hour event. The Toyota’s, once again, locked out the top three positions whilst Porsche ended the day 3.3 seconds off the fastest lap time, but only 0.4 seconds off third-placed #9 Toyota. The #2 Porsche lost time in the afternoon session as the engine was changed on the 919 Hybrid.

The Signatech Alpine #35 was the car to beat in LMP2 as it lead the way at the end of both test sessions. Andre Negrao put the ORECA-Gibson 07 fastest at the end of the morning session with the first LMP2 time to break the 3m30s barrier: a 3:29.809. His teammate, Nelson Panciatici, reiterated what Negrao had performed in the morning’s four-hour session by ending the day with the fastest time of 3:28.146. This gave him a seven-tenth advantage over Jean-Eric Vergne in the #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing, who ended the day second fastest in class.

In the morning, it was the #13 Vaillante Rebellion Racing that finished second fastest in the LMP2 class. Mathias Beche was nearly beaten to second in class by the ELMS-entry Graff car. Only 0.011 seconds kept Beche ahead of Richard Bradley as the chequered flag fell.

It does seem, from the final test day times, that the ORECA-chassis running LMP2 cars may have an advantage over any other chassis. The top fourteen cars in class were all ORECA-Gibsons when the chequered flag ended the day. However, all of the cars are a lot faster this year. The extra 100bhp that the LMP2 cars have this year have already seen them setting lap times seven seconds faster than they were twelve months ago.

Jan Magnussen returned Chevrolet to WEC racing with intent as he took the fastest lap time of the morning session in LM GTE Pro. It was a close fight between the #63 and the #91 Porsche for fastest lap time with 0.027 seconds separating Magnussen and Patrick Pilet at the end of the first four-hours testing. The sister Chevrolet rounded off the top three half a second down on the fastest pair.

The intention of Chevrolet is clear for this blue-ribboned event as they topped the afternoon session competitively. Oliver Gavin made it a Chevrolet leading a Porsche in the #64 with a lap time of 3:54.701. The #64 crew started the afternoon session with an engine change and was able to lead the class by just over two-tenths on the #91 Porsche.

Porsche took honours in LM GTE Am at the end of the morning session with the #77 Proton Racing Porsche leading the class with a 3:59.117. The time, set by Matteo Carioli, was a tenth up on second-fastest #83 AF Corse-run DH Racing Ferrari. In the afternoon session, however, it was Aston Martin on top, with Pedro Lamy setting the pace with a 3:58.250 in the #98. The Am field looks like it will be as close as it has been all season when the grid takes to the 24-hour endurance race in a fortnight’s time.

The afternoon session was ended twelve minutes early as there was dropped oil on track. It is unknown which car lost the liquid out on circuit.

Toyota #8 Take Second Victory in an action-packed race that saw over 61,000 spectators attend Spa-Francorchamps over the weekend for the second round of the 2017 World Endurance Championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 driven by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took a narrow victory ahead of the sister car, scoring the first Toyota one-two since 2014. Two full course yellows played with the luck of the race that gave Toyota #8 the win after what they admitted should have been victory for the #7 crew. LMP2 saw a tight battle throughout the race but it was pole-sitters #26 G-Drive Racing who converted the race victory that they failed to do in Silverstone.

LM GTE Pro was tightly fought between Ferrari and Ford at the start of the race, but ultimately the 488 GTEs had the pace advantage this weekend. An inter-team battle stemmed between the #71 and #51 AF Corse crews for the majority of the race, ending with advantage going to Sam Bird and Davide Rigon. LM GTE Am was dominated for the duration of the race by the #98 Aston Martin Racing entrant. They had no competition as they drove to an easy victory, even after picking up a time penalty during their pit stop for an infringement on the grid.

Off the start, Andre Lotterer was pressured to protect his pole position as two of the Toyotas ran side by side with him towards La Source. Locking up his breaks, Nicolas Lapierre shot the #9 Toyota straight off into the run off on the outside of the circuit and took the car out of the lead fight. Porsche #2 benefited the most out of the front-runners at the start as Brendon Hartley managed to get it up to second and start chasing down Toyota #8.

There were two Full Course Yellows during the six-hour event that played with the fortunes of those up and down the grid. The first one came from the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche pulling up and stopping on the start finish race. The #86 had had a troubled race from the start, with consistent abuses to track limits the team picked up multiple time penalties in their pit stops for their offences. There seemed to be damage on the car already when it bumped the rear of on of the Fords coming through Bus Stop, from what is unknown, but there was some sort of debris on the kerb of the chicane that caused the #86 to spin. After looking like it would be good to get going again it shuddered to a halt next to the pit wall where it retired from the race. The #7 Toyota had just taken their scheduled pit stop when the Full Course Yellow came out, meaning that the other three LMP1 cars gained a time advantage on them when they took their stops under the Full Course Yellows. This unlucky fate also befell the #7 during the second Full Course Yellow. The cause of the second full caution was the #28 TDS Racing LMP2 car going straight on at Courbe Paul Frère and heavily into the tyre barrier. Luckily for the LMP2 team, the car was able to get back to the pits after it was pushed out of the tyre barrier and simply needed a front nose replacement to carry on. However, for Toyota #7, once again the Full Course Yellow came at the wrong point in their pit strategy and lost them time against their competitors.

It was a close race to the line at the end in LMP1. Kamui Kobayashi was pushing hard in the #7 Toyota to close down a four second gap to the sister car that was leading ahead. All of the LMP1 cars had had to stop for a ‘splash and dash’ in the last fifteen minutes of the race so the victory fight was between Toyota. Kobayashi came so close, but traffic in the final lap saw the Japanese driver almost take himself out of the race. He finished second to the #7 by just under two seconds, when one point in the last couple of laps the gap had been seven tenths. Porsche #2 completed the podium twenty-six seconds down the road after a slow puncture had lost them time earlier on in the race. Hartley had a moment in the final stint where contact was made with the #36 Signatech Alpine LMP2 car that is being investigated after the race. The Kiwi driver was trying to overtake the traffic of the #36 and committed to a move on the inside of the corner. It appeared Hartley noticed he would not be able to make the move as the #36 was not going to leave him enough room, so he hit the brakes, locking them in the process. Unfortunately, the #2 Porsche clipped the back of the #36 Signatech Alpine and spun it around.

It was a great race for the #4 ByKolles. Making it to the chequered flag and encountering no issues through the race, the team ran competitively above the LMP2 field, lapping about a second a lap quicker. They finished a strong sixth which was not expected after they qualified eleventh. Alex Lynn spent most of the race on board the race-winning #26 G-Drive Racing car. The car was competitively paced throughout the race, and although there were swaps of the lead throughout the race the team always looked to be the strongest on track. Lynn had a comfortable lead advantage at the end of the race that allowed him to know that he would not be under any threat for the lead. Second place was a closer battle as the chequered flag approached as the #31 Vaillante Rebellion and the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing cars where split by a few seconds. But as hard as Ho-Pin Tung pushed he could not close the gap to knock the Rebellion out of second place. Sam Bird made the move that spurred the inter-team battle in AF Corse in the Pro class. Whilst the #51 was lining up to pass the struggling #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK for the lead just before the halfway mark, Bird used the tow from the sister car to follow it through when it made the pass on the Ford. Having extra momentum, Bird pulled the #71 Ferrari ahead of the #51. But a Toyota that had been passing through traffic did not leave enough room for Bird to comfortably pull ahead. A few corners of jostling between the two 488 GTE Ferraris saw Bird’s bold move come out victorious as he took the lead of the class. The battling between the two Ferrari continued until the end of the race but with fifteen minutes until chequered flag, Bird had built up a twenty second lead meaning that the #51 had no chance of stealing the win at the line. The #66 Ford finished off the podium in a class that finished two by two through manufacturers. Porsche left Aston Martin to take the last two places in the LM GTE Pro class.

In a complete reverse fortune; Aston Martin Racing completely dominated the Am class, not once giving up the lead to another car. The team were handed a time penalty to take in their pit stop due to a broken rule during the start procedure. Even after they took this they were still competitively ahead of the rest of the field and cruised to an easy victory. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche also appeared to have a fairly straightforward race. After a little period of battling on track and recovering from time lost in pit stops Christian Reid and Matteo Carioli had an easy race to take second in Am. The #61 Clearwater Ferrari made it three different manufacturers on the Am grid again by securing third. There was a brief fight between the two Ferrari-running teams for third until around the halfway mark of the race but after this the final order seemed to establish itself. The day was warm and sunny at the start of the race, but the potential rain that was predicted did not fall as heavily as it needed to to make a strong impact on the race. The #8 crew had ‘”mixed feelings” about their victory, saying that all the luck had come to them today and that the #7 had had the quicker pace all weekend. This was a sentiment that the Porsche #2 crew echoed; suggesting that the podium all believed it should have been Conway and Kobayashi on the top step. Had there have been a couple of laps more, they very well could have been.

Having topped the time sheets in all three Free Practice sessions, everyone’s money was on Toyota to take pole position at the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps. But in a session that was interrupted by a red flag, it was the #1 Porsche 919 of Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy that took pole position with an average lap time of 1:54.097.

This is Lotterer’s first pole position with the 919. “Neel did an amazing lap, for me it was smooth, conservative, I didn’t realise there was so much grip, it’s cool that my fastest lap was quicker than by best lap in F1 here,” Lotterer said. “I didn’t think we’d beat the Toyotas as they’ve looked strong all week. The first job is done, the next step is to win the race tomorrow.” Toyota took second, third and fourth on the grid with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway setting the best lap time of the three with a 1:54.693. It could be argued that Toyota could have made pole position if the session had not been red flagged. They also had laps removed for track limits. Brendon Hartley made an uncharacteristic error at the Bus Stop, locking the brakes and going straight off circuit on his flying lap. Hartley and Bernhard were unable to recover and could only manage a best average time of 1:55.440.

G-Drive Racing took pole position in LMP2, their second of the season which saw championship new comer Alex Lynn post a time of 2:01.253. That time was quicker than the pole position time set by Allan McNish in the #2 Audi R18 in its first race at Spa. With Pierre Thiriet’s lap time taken into account, the pair averaged a time of 2:02.601. Matt Rao and Gustavo Menezes took second place in the #36 with a time of 2:02.624, just 5000ths of a second quicker than the sister #35 car. The #24 Manor and #13 Vaillante Rebellion rounded out the top five in a qualifying session where the top five were split by just a second, incredibly, the top four were just 0.031 seconds apart. The session was red flagged part way through with Vitaly Petrov crashing the #25 Manor at turn nine on his first hot lap. Petrov lost the rear of the car under braking and slammed in to the tyre wall side on, damaging the right side of the car.

In GTE Pro, Davide Rigon and Sam Bird topped the time sheets with a 2:15.017 in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488, the pair were half a second quicker than the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK GT with Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla posting a 2:15.418. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell were just a tenth behind, qualifying the Silverstone winning #67 car in third. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Calado and Pier Guidi took fourth with the #91 Porsche rounding out the top five. Aston Martin will start on pole position in GTE Am, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy securing the 46th class pole for Aston Martin in the #98 Vantage. Lamy put in a late lap to post an average time of 2:18.659 and take pole position ahead of the #77 Porsche and #54 Ferrari. The top 3 in GTE Am were split by exactly a second.

Kazuki Nakajima topped the final practice session with a time of 1:55.233 in a Toyota 1-2-3, the #8 car just edging the #7 by 0.005 seconds. Porsche took fourth and fifth with Andre Lotterer posting the best time in the #1 with a 1:56.404 early on in the session. In LMP2, Alex Lynn topped the times with a 2:01.708 in the #26 G-Drive Oreca 07. Notable incidents in the session included the #13 Rebellion losing a front left wheel and the #38 DR Racing Oreca hitting the #61 Clear Water Racing Ferrari. AF Corse took a 1-2 finish in GTE Pro, the #71 Ferrari of Pier Guidi setting the best time of 2:14.904; Sam Bird and Davide Rigon were just two tenths back with a time of 2:15.1. The #67 Ford took third whilst the #95 Aston Martin which had shown early promise in FP2 came home last. Matteo Carol topped the time sheets in the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, setting the fourth quickest time overall across both GTE classes. The #98 Aston was second and the #61 Ferrari third.

30 cars will take the gird this weekend at Spa Francorchamps, an additional entry from Toyota boosting the LMP1 grid whilst the 35 Signatech Alpine returns to the championship after missing Silverstone and Tockwith Motorsport make their WEC debut and the WEC debut of the Ligier JSP217. There is a possibility that more races may be on the horizon later in the season for the team.

Mike Conway set the pace early on in Free Practice One at Spa Francorchamps, posting a time of 1:57.940 in the #7 Toyota TSO50 Hybrid. Conway will be racing the #7 alongside Kamui Kobayashi this weekend after the FIA Medical Delegate and Toyota’s own doctor agreed that Jose Maria Lopez was not medically fit enough to drive. Lopez suffered minor damage to two vertebrae after crashing in the opening race of the season at Silverstone three weeks ago. Whilst Lopez himself admits he is disappointed to be missing the race, the teams focus is on making sure he is fit enough to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans in just six weeks time.

“I’m extremely disappointed to miss this weekend’s race as I was really looking forward to driving the TS050 HYBRID at Spa,” said López. “I feel basically fine but we all agree that we should take no chances; the priority is to be absolutely fit for Le Mans. Probably I could race if we were at a different track but a driver’s body experiences extreme forces through Eau Rouge so, after discussions with the FIA Medical Delegate and our team doctor, we decided I should not drive this weekend.”

The lap times were reassuringly close throughout the first practice session, Mike Conway’s quickest time was just 0.036 seconds quicker than the #2 Porsche and only 0.1 MPH quicker through the speed traps at 213.8 miles an hour. The #8 and #9 Toyotas took fourth and fifth on the timing screens, the #9 car running the low drag Le Mans aero kit posting a time of 1:59.633.

In LMP2, Gustavo Menezes topped the time sheets in the #36 Signatech Alpine with a time of 2:04.171, the #26 G Drive of Alex Lynn, Roman Rusinov and Piere Thiriet was just a tenth behind.Championship new comer Tockwith Motorsport set a time of 2:06.607 with the Ligier JSP217. The team are making a one off appearance, moving over from the ELMS before competing at Le Mans later in the year.

In GTE-Pro, the championship leading Ford GT of Priaulx, Tinknall and Derani topped the time sheets, fresh off the back of a win at Silverstone, the trio will be looking to take another victory this weekend at Spa. The competition at the top of GTE-Pro was close however, the top three (#67, #91, #66) were split by just four tenths of a second. Ferrari took fifth and sixth in class, the #71 leading the #51 whilst Aston Martin took seventh and eighth.

Porsche topped the time sheets in GTE-Am, the Dempsey Proton Racing car going seven tenths quicker than the #86 Gulf Racing car. The Clearwater Ferrari was the best of the rest, finishing third ahead of the Aston Martin and Spirit of Race Ferrari 488.

For the first race of the 2017 World Endurance Championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing remained on the form they had displayed throughout the weekend to take home victory from the 6 Hours of Silverstone. The #8 crew of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, and Kazuki Nakajima led most of the six-hour endurance race and only had to fight for position in the closing stages. LMP2 continued to show a mixed field with the pace of all of the cars being very similar throughout the class. It was the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing team that came out on top as the chequered flag fell. After a trouble-filled race that saw them having to pit early, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx brought a surprise victory to the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car whilst a last lap incident saw the #98 Aston Martin Racing LM GTE Am car lose the class victory to the #61 Clearwater Racing team.

At the start of the race it looked like it was going to be easy for Toyota to secure a one-two at the chequered flag. Although Porsche was setting consistent lap times to the pace the Toyota duo were setting the Japanese team had managed to pull out a lead from the line that Porsche were struggling to close down. But it was not plain sailing for the Toyota team as mixed weather conditions brought Porsche right into the field of play.

For the first three hours there was nothing Porsche could do to catch up to the front-runners. Both teams – Porsche and Toyota – had an inter-team order switch within the first few laps with Brendon Hartley passing Neel Jani for third and Buemi getting ahead of his teammates in the sister car. It was around the halfway mark when the rain started to fall that Porsche looked to have an opportunity.

It first came in the form of pit stops. With timing giving the advantage to Porsche, both the Porsche 919 Hybrids pitted as the rain began to fall, meaning they were in prime position to pass Davidson in the #8 who was struggling on the dry weather tyres. Bernhard and Nick Tandy took on the slicktermediates during their driver change pit stops and passed the struggling Toyota easily on track, dropping Toyota to third on the grid.

The #7 Toyota had suffered issues during the first half that had seen it travelling slowly and falling to fourth on track, but the day got worse for the second Toyota Hybrid. Losing brakes, Jose Maria Lopez had a fast speed crash going straight into the tyre barriers at Copse Corner. Luckily the driver was alright but the car lost an hour and a half after it limped back to the pits and brought out a Full Course Yellows which eventually turned into a safety car due to the debris Lopez scattered across the track. This took the #7 completely out of contention and the battle for the lead between #8 Toyota and #2 Porsche.

Race starters Hartley and Buemi were back in the cars for the closing stages of the race. Having double stinted the tyres at the end of the race and completing a short, fuel-only stop at the end, Hartley returned on track with an eight-second lead, something Toyota did not expect. An incredible drive from Buemi on the fresher tyres and lighter fuel load saw the Swiss driver close in on Hartley at a rapid pace. It became more of a matter of when was Buemi going to pass rather than would he catch up enough to make a move. Coming into Village, Buemi lined Hartley up, getting his Toyota TS050 Hybrid on the inside of the Loop Corner and squeezing Hartley out a little. Having a much better exit from the corner, Buemi made the move stick and went on to take the first victory of the season by 6.1 seconds. The #1 Porsche finished off the podium, bringing home an unexpected double podium to the German team.

The only LMP1-Privateer entrant, #4 ByKolles Racing, was doing much better than many expected during the 6 Hours of Silverstone. After such a poor Prologue, it was assumed that the team would have a difficult first weekend, leading to many assuming this was the reason Robert Kubica dropped out of the team three days before the first event. However, the car was running strong and, besides a couple of short stints in the garage, it was running within the LMP2 field at a competitive level. But it was not meant to be for the #4 team as, with just fifteen minutes to go; the car was parked up in the garage and did not take the chequered flag. This means that the team did not classify for this race.

Off the start, Nicolas Lapierre was once again the driver to watch. From fourth on the grid Lapierre laid down a blinding pace that saw him take the lead of the class within the first half an hour of racing. But it sadly was not something that was meant to last. Although his teammates fought well there was not enough in the car to get it to cross the line any higher than fourth. The #36 Signatech Alpine crew showed an excellent showcase of teamwork as they fought a tough on track battle with the #28 TDS Racing and #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing teams.

Pole-sitter Alex Lynn had a tough race in the #26 G-Drive Racing machine. It suffered an early door malfunction that forced the team to pit for an extra stop to complete repairs. With just over an hour complete the team had fallen out of contention and it was too much of a gap to close before the chequered flag.

The #38 team had been a threat from the start and remained so throughout the six hours of racing. There were at least five different leaders of the LMP2 class through the race showing just how close and competitive this year’s class will be. It was between Oliver Jarvis in the #38 and the TDS Racing #28 for the lead of the class as the race came to an end. An impressive drive from Jarvis saw him take class victory for his first race in the LMP2 class on track. TDS Racing took second whilst the early leader of the race, #31 Vaillante Rebellion, rounded off the LMP2 podium.

The race was packed with action and drama for the pole sitting #67 Ford Chip Ganassi team. They lead the field off the line and held the advantage competitively until Priaulx suffered a door failure. Whilst speeding down one of the straights the driver’s side door of the Ford GT opened a fraction. This happened a few times and Priaulx looked like he was able to sort out the problem from within the cockpit, but in fear of being forced into the pits by the stewards the team took the decision themselves and pitted about halfway into the race. A big slam of the door seemed to fix the problem but it dropped Tincknell and Priaulx right down the order, handing the lead to the sister #66 Ford car.

But it did not last long as the #92 Porsche GT Team entrant was soaring through the class. Porsche explained that they had been focused on the race pace of the car, hence why they appeared to be so off the mark in qualifying, and the performance of the team was proving that tactic correct. They lead the field competitively for a small duration of the race. Disaster struck as the mid-engine car caught on fire, with the car pulling to a stop on Stowe corner. This incident brought out the first Full Course Yellow of the race as the team could only look on whilst the car was doused with a fire extinguisher.

This handed the advantage back to Ford and the rapid lapping #67. As the #67 Ford entrant was out of sync with everyone else’s pit stops they seemed to be making the alternative strategy work for them. Tincknell had made up a lot of ground during his stint in the car and this left him in prime position to inherit the lead of the class. Against all odds the door failure that plagued the beginning of their race returned with just ten minutes on the clock. Tincknell, like his teammate, managed to get a temporary fix on the issue that was enough to see him over the finish line to take the class win. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE finished second in class whilst the #91 Porsche entrant made it three different manufacturers on the podium.

The #98 Aston Martin Racing team were the ones to beat throughout most of the race in the Am class. For around an hour during the rain shower, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche had the edge, leading the class, but once the track dried out Aston Martin were back to controlling the pace. It looked like they were set to win even with the multiple spins Paul Dalla Lana suffered during the rainy period of the race that luckily caused no damage to the car.

But the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari had been on a mission and with a few laps left it was closing in on the Aston. Pedro Lamy was pushing as hard as he could, as the chequered flag got closer. The Ferrari was quick but it looked like it would not be enough before the end of the race.

Throwing caution to the wind, the #61 through a move up the inside of Lamy, spinning both of them off the track through contact. Due to their lead on the rest of the field being so great, neither of them lost any positions. But as the Ferrari got moving first it stole the chequered flag, taking the first class victory. Lamy struggled home for second with the Aston clearly suffering a lot of damage as it stopped at Farm Corner after taking the chequered flag.

We are now quickly approaching the first race of the season. The cars made their first appearance at Monza at the beginning of the month and whilst there has been a lot of changes over the winter, it is shaping up once again to be a fantastic season.

LMP1

For the first time in nearly 20 years, we will not see an Audi Prototype fighting at the front of the grid, all good things come to an end however, times change and things move on. From first impressions at Monza, it would appear that both Toyota and Porsche are cable of filling the gap, both teams running redesigned variations of their TSO50 and 919 Hybrids. The future of LMP1 is certainly bright with a number of customer cars due to enter in 2018 with the newly designed Ginetta chassis. Away from the Hybrid factory cars, ByKolles return for the season with a new engine and a newly designed car.

Porsche return to the championship with a substantially updated 919 Hybrid, comments from Monza indicating that around 70% of the car has been newly developed including new body work and substantial changes to the front aero and head lights. The Porsche driver line up has also seen a number of changes over the winter, beginning with the announcement towards the back of 2016 that Mark Webber would retire at the end of the year. Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb stepped down from the team at the end of the season with Earl Bamber and and Nick Tandy returning to the team after their 2015 Le Mans success. Andre Lotterer also joins the team stepping in to the #1 car alongside Bamber and Neel Jani.

The 2017 Toyota TS050 Hybrid like the Porsche has been substantially updated, the far has a brand new aero package and a brand new 2.4 litre twin turbo V6 petrol engine. Feedback from members of the team in Monza, confirmed the car had undergone 30,000 KM of testing, including four 30 hour endurance sessions. Toyota will also be running a third car at Spa and Le Mans this year featuring a reshuffled line up. FIA World Touring Car Champion Jose Maria Lopez joins Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7, the #8 line up stays unchanged. Stephane Sarrazin makes the switch to the #9 car partnering alongside Super Formula Champion Yuji Kunimoto and former Toyota driver Nicolas Lapierre.

ByKolles return with an updated chassis and a new power plant. The 2016 car suffered with serious overheating issues in 2016 which saw the AER engine blow up on more than one occasion, including Le Mans. The updated car now features the Cosworth designed Nissan LMP1 GT-R LM engine from 2015. The Prologue was a troublesome weekend for ByKolles however, only venturing out of the garage for six laps the whole weekend before the rear wing collapsed. Oliver Webb got the only track time in the car. Robert Kubica was announced as a new driver for 2017 but there is yet to be an official announcement on a third driver. Dominik Kraihamer was due to test the car in Monza but there are no further announcements on his plans for this year. It is unlikely that ByKolles will offer any competition for Toyota and Porsche but it will be an important development year for the team with the Ginetta customer chassis coming in next season.

It is hard to take any firm conclusions away from the Prologue with teams running various different set ups. Porsche were visibly quicker through the speed traps, topping out at 319.5 KPH in the hands of Earl Bamber. In comparison, Toyota only managed to hit 306.8 KPH in the hands of Nico Lapierre. However at the Prologue last year, Toyota topped the time sheets by over 20 kph and struggled early on in the season.

LMP2

LMP2 is very much a one make series this year in the WEC, each team running with the Oreca 07, Alpine running a modified version of the chassis. Le Mans will see a variety of chassis entries though with both Ligier and Dallara to be represented at the 24 Hour in June. The new cars are quick. They have an additional hundred horse power, the Alpine hit 314 KPH through the speed traps in the hands of Romain Dumas, beating the Toyotas in a straight line.

There has been some big changes in LMP2 this year, Jota have signed to run the Jackie Chan DC Racing cars with Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent in the #38 car with David Cheng, Alex Brundle and Tristan Gommendy in the #37.

TDS Racing have made the step up this year from the European Le Mans Series to the World Endurance Championship. They are partnered with G-Drive Racing, Pierre Thiriet joining Roman Rusinov and Alex Lynn in the #26 car, former GTE-Am runners Francois Perrodo, Mattheiu Vaxiviere and Emmanuel Collard running the #28 TDS entry.

Manor WEC return with new sponsorship and backing in the form of China Energy and SMP with Vitaly Petrov confirmed as the third driver in the #24. Both cars feature a new look livery for 2017, with a substantial amount of sponsorship coverage in comparison to last year.

Rebellion made the switch over the winter to LMP2, returning to the class with a new look livery and sponsorship package, the team now officially called Vaillante Rebellion. David Heinemeier Hansson makes his return to prototype racing, partnering up in the #13 with Mathias Beche and Nelson Piquet Jr. The #31 car will be driven by Bruno Senna, Nico Prost and Julien Canal.

GTE Pro

The big news in GTE Pro is Porsche making their factory return to the championship having take a year out to develop the new “not mid-engine’d” 911 RSR. Aston Martin return with the next iteration of the Vantage, a fairly old car now in comparison to the Ford and Ferrari entries. The new 911 is a serious piece of kit and certainly a title contender. The engine has been moved closer to the middle of the car, but as per the launch press conference in Monza, it is not a “mid-engined” car. Porsche have admitted that there will be no road going variants of the car. With a number of teams making the mid season switch to two drivers, it is slightly surprising to see Ford and Aston Martin running three drivers in each car. Pipo Derani (of ESM fame) joins the #67 team whilst Billy Johnson joins Mucke and Pla in the #66. Richie Stanaway joins the #95 with Aston Martin development driver Daniel Serra joining Jonny Adam and Darren Turner in the #97. As ever in GT Racing, it is hard to tell just where every body stands with the development of Balance of Performance measures, however, this season will hopefully be better managed with a new automated BOP system. Last years restrictions were often altered on a session by session basis rather than between race weekends.

GTE Am

As with the rest of the grid, there have been some big changes to the class. Clearwater Racing join for a full season after a strong debut at Le Mans, they will be racing the ex Gimi Bruni AF Corse 488 with Matt Griffin partnering Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok. Spirit of Race join the championship with Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina at the wheel. They will have backing from AF Corse throughout the season.

Aston Martin return with the loan season entry, Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Matthias Laura all returning for the season. The trio missed out on the championship last year despite taking a number of wins. Gulf Racing return with the old shape 911 RSR, Ben Barker joining Michael Wainwright and Nicholas Foster, who steps in to replace Adam Carrol. Dempsey Proton drop down to the Am Class, Christian Reid partnering Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst. It will be a shame not to have a full season Corvette entry registered, however we will once again be joined by an American contingent of Corvettes at Le Mans.

Audi maybe gone, but 2017 is going to be a fantastic season. There is a chance that LMP1 could be a very one way fight, however, if both cars are on par with each other then it is going to be a fantastic fight at the top. Fuji last year being a prime example where Toyota took their home race win by just over a second. Add into the mix that the LMP2 cars now have an extra 100BHP, there is a very real chance that a P2 car could finish on the overall podium. At Le Mans, if close enough, the LMP2 cars may even stand a chance of passing the LMP1 cars down the Mulsanne Straight, to then lose the ground through the corners.

Both GTE fields are going to be as varied as always with each class managed by BOP. Traffic management will be incredibly important for each of the four classes, the speed differentiations being so different both through the corners and in a straight line.

It all kicks off in less than a weeks time at Silverstone, what ever happens, one thing for sure is its going to be a great season!

Qualifying for the LMP1 class looked, in the end, to be fairly one sided. Porsche did not seem to be able to get close to the rapid pace of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids. Kamui Kobayashi setting the fastest lap of the weekend, a 1:36.793, that Porsche could not get any closer than 1.3 seconds slower than. With the battle of down force packages seeming to be the main talking point in the LMP1 field, it will be interesting to see just how far behind, if at all, Porsche are come race day tomorrow. Speed Chills got a chance to talk to some of the LMP1 drivers after their qualifying session.

Being one of the drivers to qualify, Anthony Davidson was happy with the set up of the car and the performance of his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. He stated that this year’s Toyota is the “Best the car has ever been in Silverstone,” with it “just doing pretty much everything I wanted.” Davidson explained that the impressive time set by Kobayashi was at the result of the two Toyotas running different options of down force in different set ups for the weekend. Even so, Davidson had nothing but praise for the 2017 challenger, claiming the #8 crew is “really confident with our car for the race,” and he is “Really happy to drive such a good car.”

However, Toyota are under no illusion that tomorrow’s race will be an easy one to take the victory for. Although they have an advantage running the high down force package compared to the low down force aero kit Porsche elected for, Davidson is confident Porsche will be back and closer in the race. “They’re definitely going to be closer in the race than they were in qualifying,” Davidson admitted. “This has never been a strong circuit for us in terms of how we use our hybrid system. Our system is a kinetic system only whereas the Porsche system lends itself a bit better to this kind of track where you don’t get much kinetic recovery. They rely more on their turbo for the heat recovery than we can do round here.

“We are expecting them to be closer but we’re still unsure about how it’s going to pan out in terms of the double stint. How we’re going to use the tyres compared to them. Normally, under the normal circumstances, you’d say we use the tyres better than them, we’d be able to eek out more life in our tyres than them because running more down force should keep the surface of the tyre in better condition, putting less friction through them, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, they’re going to be closer in the race.”

Brendon Hartley was keen to echo this sentiment when discussing the benefits and downsides to running the low down force ‘Le Mans’ specification aero package at a track that prefers high down force. Although he stated that “Qualifying wasn’t very important with only four cars,” and that the #2 crew and Porsche were “really focused on the race.” in the free practice sessions, Hartley believes Porsche is not that far off the pace Toyota was setting in their long runs. “Toyota’s pace was awesome in qualifying but we didn’t see the same in free practice.

“Honestly their time this morning [in qualifying] was really impressive but I think that also there’s a bigger gain for them in qualifying compared to us for a few reasons, with how you manage energies and what not. It was an impressive lap, but I don’t think you’re going to see such differences tomorrow.”

Hartley revealed that the #2 car never ran any qualifying simulations in free practice, opting to use the 240 minutes of free practice time to fully focus on long runs and making sure the car was set up perfectly for the race whilst collecting as much data about tyre wear. This meant they never got the balance right when they put the qualifying set up on the car for the first time in the qualifying session which is what Hartley suggests is the reason they start at the back of the hybrid field. On average, the lap times the Porsches were setting on their long runs were fairly close to the pace of the Toyotas in the same circumstance.

Although Neel Jani has been fairly avoidant that Silverstone will be Porsche’s “joker” race, one that he does not expect them to perform well at due to using the low down force aero kit on the Porsches, Hartley is optimistic about his expectations of tomorrow’s race. “I think we can win.” He claimed boldly. “There is gonna be a fight, everyone has to pull together; strategy, pit stops, there could be a bit of weather in play so there is always a challenge. We’re going for the win.”

The low down force aero package appears to not be as much of a deficit to Porsche this weekend, something the team is pleasantly surprised about. However, qualifying third and fourth ahead of the six-hour race tomorrow was all Jani expected out of the cars today. “P1 and 2 definitely out of reach just due to strategy with the down force package over the season.” Jani explained, using a term he has used a lot this weekend by calling Silverstone Porsche’s ‘joker race’. “We know we give away performance but we hope to gain a lot in the second half [of the season].”

In terms of the pace Porsche produced in qualifying with all things considered, Jani was ‘positively surprised’. “I think is important to mention. Last year, we did a 39.6 with a high down force package, or a higher down force. This year with the low down force package and we go one second quicker. Even though we lost down force and whatever we still went quicker. So I think that’s actually giving me a positive outlook for the future with that car.”

Unlike his teammate, though, Jani does not think there is much they can do to catch the Toyotas in tomorrow’s race. “I think the only chance is if we pass them lap one.” He said when asked if there was any possibility they could challenge for a higher position. “2015 I had this big battle with Marcel, with the Audi. Audi was two seconds a lap quicker but because we were so much quicker on the straight they couldn’t overtake us. That worked out nearly until the end with a four second difference at the end. So I’m not sure that would work tomorrow but I would say that is our only big chance on track.

“But on the other hand, just with racing, you need a bit of luck. Like last year, we won, we were not meant to win but we still won. You know, you never know how a race can turn out.”

Jani may have written off the first round of the championship but he is nothing but positive about the prospect of round two at Spa-Francorchamps even with the low down force package on the car. Silverstone, in Jani’s opinion, should be the only race that sees Porsche losing performance to Toyota. “We think in Spa we could be not looking too bad. If we look really bad in Spa I think we should get a little worried.

“I also think at Spa it could help us overall with traffic management because you can only do lap time on the straight line and over take on the straight line. In the middle sector you cannot overtake. So maybe in the race it will be helping us more than it will help us in qualifying. But I think we go with the positive outlook or view to spa after what we felt here.”

Kamui Kobayashi has set the fastest lap time of the weekend to take pole position for the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing. The lap time was unrivalled throughout the session, and made teammate Mike Conway’s job fairly easy when generating the aggregated lap time for pole position. A close battle in LMP2 saw #26 G-Drive Racing picking up the pole position point this weekend. Ford retained the rapid pace they had shown in the final practice session to clinch LM GTE Pro pole, whilst Aston Martin stole Am pole from Ferrari’s grasp.

Porsche did not have a chance at challenging for pole position when Toyota’s Kobayashi set a 1:36.793 on his second flying lap. Pole was fairly secure for the car as Kobayashi handed over to teammate Mike Conway. Although there was a moment of concern for the team when Conway’s first lap time was deleted due to exceeding track limits, the car still comfortably took pole in the LMP1 class. Locking out the front row, it will be two Toyotas at the front for the start of the first race of the 2017 WEC season, with Porsche having to settle for the second row.

The LMP2 times were changing so rapidly throughout the session it was hard to keep track of who was on provisional pole. At the halfway split, it was Alex Lynn leading the field in the #26 G-Drive. But the advantage was not unreachable and the tension was high as the second drivers climbed into the cockpits. Pierre Thiriet did what he needed to make Lynn’s hard work count and secured pole position for G-Drive with an average of 1:44.387. #36 Signatech Alpine’s Nicolas Lapierre did what he had been accomplishing all weekend and put in a fast enough lap as the second driver to place the ORECA/Gibson second in class. He leaped ahead of the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car and the #28 TDS Racing machine with his flying lap. Due to multiple deleted lap times, the #28 fell from its provisional second in class to seventh in class. #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing appeared to have a torrid session and ended slowest of all the LMP2 cars.

ByKolles made a step up for qualifying but were still off their desired pace. It classified ninth overall, which meant it was slower than four of the LMP2 cars. The average of the car was nine tenths off the average of the pole sitting G-Drive. It was a better performance than they showed in the morning practice session but still the team have some big gains to make.

LM GTE Pro became a battle between Ford #67, Ferrari #71 and Aston Martin #95. None of the other Pro cars could get close to the top three as the twenty-minute session panned out. Harry Tincknell set the pace to beat in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car but David Rigon was not far behind in the #71 Ferrari. After the first drivers had set laps, it seemed to be a two horse race, but Marco Sorensen put an end to that with a fantastic lap that put the #96 Aston Martin’s average lap time less than a tenth off the pace of the #71 Ferrari. It seemed the second drivers did enough to maintain the position their teammates set before them, with the #67 sitting on the first 2017 WEC LM GTE Pro pole. Porsche suffered a lot throughout the session and could not seem to get the 911 RSRs into optimum running. Both the Pro cars sat at the back of the Pro field over two seconds off the pole-setting pace.

It was a two car fight in Am, with the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE taking on the #98 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage. After the first drivers got out of the cars, it was the #61 ahead with a small margin. Paul Dalla Lana hopped into the #98 and found the time Pedro Lamy could not out on track, taking the class poll position by six-tenths in average lap times. Porsche were a little bit more competitive in the Am class, taking third place for tomorrow’s grid, but they were nearly a second off of first place. Challenging for anything higher than third was out of reach. The battle at the bottom of the grid was close with each car separated by around three-tenths. The second Ferrari, #54 Spirit of Race, split the two Porsche–running teams, leaving the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR to take the final spot on the grid.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 has been the car to beat through the practice sessions, taking the fastest lap in every session. Running the low down force ‘Le Mans’ specification aero package on their cars, the Porsche LMP1 cars could never quite match the fast pace of the Toyotas. LMP2 produced a mix of results during the three practice sessions. With all the cars running the same chassis and engine combination, the pace is very well matched throughout the field. Porsche were strong through the Friday sessions, but come Saturday the pace they had seemed to fall away in the LM GTE classes. Whether the cars lost performance between the two days or the other teams, namely Ford and Ferrari, were holding back in the first day of the 6 Hours of Silverstone is unknown.

As was expected when Porsche announced they were running the ‘Le Mans’ specification down force package on their 919 Hybrids, Toyota commanded the pace during practice. The #8 seemed to be the car to beat as all three drivers - Sebastian Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Kazuki Nakajima – respectively set the fastest lap in each session. The fastest time, so far, this weekend was a 1:38.210 set by Davidson in the second practice session.

The #7 Toyota suffered an issue in the second practice session that saw it spend just under half of the session in the garage. The team cleared whatever it was and the car ran without further delay. However, it did end that practice session slowest of the LMP1-Hybrid cars with a lap time 1.180 seconds off the pace. More issues befell the Toyota #7 during the final practice sessions as, overtaking traffic; Jose Maria Lopez clipped the #98 Aston Martin Racing Am car causing heavy damage to the front left tyre. The car was reported to the stewards for dangerous driver by since time of publication no further action had occurred.

The ByKolles Racing Team #4 was happily in much better form than it was two weeks ago at the Prologue in Monza. Setting 68 laps in total during Friday’s collective 180 minutes of running was a positive sign for the team who could barely get their car on track two weeks earlier. The pace of the ByKolles is still a distance from where it should be, sitting on average at the back of the LMP2 field, but it is good to see that the car is out setting laps and reliability seems strong.

Track limits was the talk of the practice sessions. Many drivers were getting messages about respecting track limits, specifically at Luffields, Copse, and Club Corner. It is suspected that drivers will receive lap deletions during qualifying simply because of the vast amount of teams that are getting messages about track limits. Some teams have even gone as far as receiving black and white warning flags for continuous abuse of the track limitations.

As promised from the Prologue, LMP2 has shown a closely matched field. Some of the practice sessions have shown more time covering the class than others, but it is assumed to be a tight battle for pole in qualifying. The Vaillante Rebellions look to be ones to watch, with the team managing to fastest lap or be in the top five of each practice session. The TDS Racing cars - #28 TDS Racing and #26 G-Drive Racing – seem to have found some extra pace in the final practice session and are expected to be strong in qualifying.

The LM GTE classes have thrown a variety of results in the practice session, leaving deciding on a favourite for pole in each class quite difficult. Friday practice sessions were first in Aston Martin Racing’s control. It appeared that the teams had been sandbagging significantly at the Prologue as they showed up with an uncatchable pace for the first practice session. Porsche retaliated in the second practice session yesterday, with the Porsche GT Team cars fastest by the chequered flag. It looked like it was going to be a Aston Martin and Porsche battle for pole position when the paddock packed up Friday evening.

Alas, the Ferrari entrants, who had been slowest significantly throughout Friday, came back with a pace to challenge on Saturday morning. Ford also looked to have made a step up with their two Ford GT cars and it was a Ferrari and Ford battle for the fastest lap in final practice. Porsche, today, have seemed to be the ones completely off the pace, finishing slowest in the Pro class. This could show an interesting turn of events in qualifying and could see yesterday’s favourites now least favourite to take the first pole position.

The same situation was seen in the Am class, but with the difference of the #98 Aston Martin Racing car consistently being a threat. In the first practice session, the #98 finished fastest in Am and second fastest of all the GT cars on track. It was an incredible turn of form from what was expected of it after Monza. Ferrari, like their Pro counterparts, seemed to be off the pace on Friday but returned on a mission Saturday morning.

Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande took to Long Island with just the two of them for the third round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The VISIT FLORIDA Racing team were in search of their second podium this season with the Gibson Riley challenger and after the disappointment of the 12 Hours of Sebring there was little else on their mind. However, the bad luck had not finished from Sebring as the team were forced to abandon the race after only the first practice session, not even participating in qualifying or race day.

There was a lot of potential pace in the VISIT FLORIDA Racing challenger and Goossens and van der Zande were showing excellent pace during the first practice session. They had been taking it in turns to set laps around the legendary street cuircuit. It was van der Zande who was on board the #90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Gibson Riley when disaster struck.

A brake failure saw the Dutchman unable to stop at the braking zone for Turn 1. He was able to slow the car down but not significantly enough, leading to a high speed crash into the tyre barriers.

Luckily the machine absorbed most of the energy, seeing van der Zande able to get out of the car quickly and receive an all clear from the IMSA medical staff. But this saw the end of the #90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing’s weekend as the damage it suffered was too much for the team to be able to repair in time for the race.

With what is hopefully their last bad weekend behind them, VISIT FLORIDA Racing now look ahead towards the fourth round of the season at the Circuit of the Americas taking place on the 4th-6th of May.

It was a race of disappointment for the VISIT FLORIDA Racing team for the second race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. After finishing so strongly at Daytona, taking a podium by scoring third place and being ‘best-of-the-rest’ over the 24 hour endurance race, an electrical issue forced the team to bring the car behind the wall during the 12-hour marathon. Perseverance and impressive driving saw Marc Goossens, Renger van der Zande and Rene Rast pulled the VISIT FLODIRA Racing challenger to sixth for the chequered flag.

At the start of the Mobil1 Sebring 12 Hours, the VISIT FLORIDA Racing trio put the car fifth, looking strong to repeat their performance at Daytona and get the car onto the podium. Van der Zande started the race off, taking the green flag to get into the rhythm of the race instantly and began firing off competitive lap times.

A two-hour stint saw van der Zande bring the car it for its first pit stop. The Netherlands native managed to get up to third place before handing over to Goossens for the second stint.

It was just half an hour into his stint that Goossens discovered an issue with the Gibson Riley. He was stuck with an ailing throttle and forced to bring the car back in to go behind the wall for repairs. The team lost around an hour and a half in the garage, giving Goossens just over eight hours of the race left when he finally returned to the track.

Goossens left nothing out on track as he pushed the VISIT FLORIDA Racing Gibson Riley through its paces. It didn’t take long for him to get back up to pace with the focus now on damage limitation. He made up a few positions before handing the car over to third driver Rast.

Rast’s pace matched the example set by Goossens before him and the car was looking strong. Sadly the 90 minute delay behind the wall had dropped the VISIT FLORIDA Racing team down to seventh in class. However strong the pace was there was no way the team would be able to close the ground to get a second consecutive podium at this event.

The pure perseverance of the team brought the Gibson Riley up to take sixth as the chequered flag fell, showing a display of incredible team spirit. It was a disappointing end to what could have been a brilliant race, but reliability had thrown its hand in the mix and prevented VISIT FLORIDA Racing from getting anything more out of the weekend.

The team now looks forward to heading to the West Coast to take part in the third round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Island will take place over the 7th and 8th of April. Hopefully VISIT FLORIDA Racing’s luck will be back and they can remind the IMSA grid exactly what they are capable of.

With the pre season testing now complete before the season opener in a few weeks at Silverstone, it is still not clear as to which teams are on top of their respective classes. Both Porsche and Toyota finished the day with a fastest lap, whilst LMP2 still looks to be a mixed field with every team running the same chassis and engine combination. Only in the LM GTE fields do things look a bit clearer, but Balance of Performance could see the predicted order muddled when we get to the first race of the season.

Today’s running consisted of only two track sessions. Both lasted three hours and one took place in the morning and one in the afternoon. A new fastest lap time was set today, with Nicolas Lapierre putting Toyota on top in the final session of the test with an impressive 1:30.547, nearly a second up on Mike Conway’s faster overall lap time set yesterday.

Only one incident saw track action halted in today’s sessions. With half an hour left of the afternoon, and final, session, an unexpected rain shower glanced over the track. It did not seem to be too heavy down at Variante Tribune, but at the top end of the track (near the Lesmo corners) there was a lot less grip. Due to this it is assumed that is the direction the rain came from, meaning it hit the Lesmo corners first.

Matthew Rao was out in last’s year’s LMP2 champion car #36 Signatech Alpine when, going through Lesmo One, the car snapped away from him on the damp track. Caught unaware, Rao was a passenger as the car spun out and into the tyre barrier. As there was a lot of damage to the tyre barrier, the session was red flagged for ten minutes. Rao was surveyed trackside and cleared by the medical doctor, not even needing to go to the medical centre.

When the track returned to green the rain shower had made what had been a dry track, after last night’s fully wet evening session, damp. This meant that most teams did not risk taking back to the track and the test ended slightly anticlimactically with only Toyota lapping round in short stints.

Lapierre set the fastest lap of the prologue at the start of the afternoon session. The morning session started a little damp as the track was still wet from last night’s downpour. It was the #1 Porsche crew who took the fastest lap in the morning session with the sister #2 car finishing 0.004 seconds slower than their fastest lap of a 1:32.020.

But it looked like, in both sessions, the LMP1 Hybrid teams were focusing on mileage rather than fastest laps. In the morning session, Porsche were able to put 212 laps on the Porsche 919s collectively and without fault on the cars. Porsche also elected to run some hybrid tests where they completed a lap or two on only hybrid power. This was to make sure that, if there is an engine failure on the cars during a race, the drivers can get them back to the pits on hybrid power alone for repairs.

After such a bad first day of the test yesterday, it had looked more positive for #4 ByKOLLES entrant as they managed to get their car out for six laps towards the end of the evening session last night. Sadly, this seemed to be full of false hope. Within an hour of the first session today the team withdrew from the rest of the test without getting the car out for one lap. It does not look like the best start of the year for the team nor the best start to their advantage over Ginetta for the 2018 season. There will be no advantage to gain if they cannot have the car running competitively or, at least, full race distance.

LMP2 did not disappoint today in promising what looks like a closely fought season. The #28 TDS Racing car took the fastest lap time in the morning session, whilst Oliver Jarvis put the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car fastest in the afternoon in what was effectively his first outing in the car. But the LMP2 field remained close for the entire day, with the field being covered by around 2 seconds.

In the morning, a few of the LMP2 cars suffered with a few issues, one of those being the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing. The car managed to get out for a few laps towards the end of the session when Jarvis got on board for the first time with his new team. He managed to get eighth fastest in that session and picked up the fastest lap in the afternoon session within the first hour. His pace showed consistency and competitiveness, so hopefully Jarvis will be able to convert his talents from LMP1 to LMP2 for the 2017 season.

The #31 Variante Rebellion entrant also suffered some issues in the morning session. The team managed to get 25 laps on the board and took to sending the car out for short stints throughout the session. But whatever troubles seemed to ale the car in the first session of the day were resolved when it came to the second one. LMP2 is looking like a strongly competitive field, with not one car breaking away from the pack. Hopefully this will be something that is echoed in the season opener in a fortnight’s time and will lead to some excellent racing in the class over the season.

The #92 Porsche GT Racing team were not able to take a clean sweep of fastest LM GTE Pro laps for the test as the afternoon test was taken by Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK. Ford have been the closest contenders to Porsche in the Pro class all weekend. They may have been finishing as the third and fourth car for most of the sessions, but the time gap was never over a couple of tenths of a second.

Aston Martin looked to be struggling the most in class, with their two cars consistently occupying the bottom two spots of the class in every session. Again, the deficit is not massive (around half a second on average) and over the course of a six-hour race they could make up for any lap time disadvantage they have. But they are the slowest of the Pro cars and this should cause some concern for the Aston Martin crews. It looks like they will not be able to push for wins on a pace basis by may need to rely on other cars failing to get onto the podium.

The second day of testing saw a new manufacturer on top in the GTE Am field. #61 Clearwater Racing took charge in the afternoon whilst the morning had belonged to the other Ferrari 488, the #54 Spirit of Race. Ferrari didn’t run away with it, with the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche only three-tenths off the leading pace in the afternoon in third and two-tenths, in second, off the fastest lap time of the #54.

Aston Martin were, once again, at the back of this field. The situation here is very similar to the one in LM GTE Pro: the Aston Martins are not significantly slower on pace time but are certainly and consistently the slowest in class. The #98 Aston Martin Racing piloted by Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda, and Pedro Lamy was four-tenths off the fastest lap in the afternoon session, but they did not look like the were possible of closing that gap down as they proved by being consistently slowest in the LM GTE Am class.

For reasons undisclosed by the team, the Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 Porsche sat out the final three-hour session, not coming out of the garage at all. It joined the #4 ByKOLLES LMP1 privateer car on the sidelines and ended the session early. The car had been running strong in the morning session with no problems seeming to be on the car.

The World Endurance Championship Prologue is the first official test of the WEC and the first time that all of the teams race the new cars together on the track. Although it is testing, so lap times and relative pace must be taken with a pinch of salt, it is the first chance to see these cars up against each other and get a sense of where people may be with their cars heading to the first round of the Championship in a fortnight’s time.

Day one of the Prologue consisted of three track sessions: two of three-hours in durations (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and one of two-hours in duration (the evening session). Taking place for the first time around the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the cars have been showing a step up in overall pace compared to previous years. Although rain fell in the evening session, reducing the amount of running that took place, the day sessions were filled with a lot of track action and very little incident.

Only three Full Course Yellows fell upon the track today. The first was due to an LMP2 systems check of the Full Course Yellow system and so lasted around three minutes at the beginning of the morning session. Luckily, there were no mistakes or misfortunate moments in the wet evening run. In fact, due to the rain, very few people took to the track for the evening session, with only 15 of the 27 in attendance of the test taking to the track and 13 setting lap times.

The other two Full Course Yellows came in the afternoon session. Just after the end of the first hour, the #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing went off track at Variante Tribune and was unable to recover itself. The session took a turn for the worse as it was later reported, once the #24 had made it back out on track, that the car was losing liquid around the track. It took about an hour for the car to get back on track with whatever issues it had to have been resolved.

The pace-setting LM GTE Pro Porsche GT Team #92 was the only other car to bring out the Full Course Yellows. Towards the end of the second hour, the car went off at Variante Ascari, getting stuck in the gravel trap on the exit of the corner. The Full Course Yellow soon turned into a red flag to get the truck on track to clear the car, putting a delay of about twenty minutes on the session. Like the Manor, the Porsche #92 was not deterred by the off and finished the afternoon session fastest of the LM GTE Pro cars.

The LMP1 field, of Porsche and Toyota, is looking very close upon reflecting on the first day of the Prologue. Although in the speed trap, Porsche are recording 319kph whilst Toyota are setting 306kph, all of the data we are gathering is relative. It is unknown exactly what set up, tyres, fuel, or programme teams are running to generate these numbers. For example, at last year’s Prologue, Toyota were setting 20kph faster than any other team in the speed trap, but when it came to the first few races their car could not keep up with Audi or Porsche. The difference in pace could also be down to which aero kit the teams have installed on the cars, which Porsche refuses to confirm as of this moment.

Toyota took the fastest lap in the afternoon session, whilst it was Porsche on top in the morning and evening session. However, the fastest time set so far this weekend was a 1:31.332, which was set by Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota about halfway through the evening session. All of the LMP1 cars have now set times in the 1m31s bracket, but no one could go faster than Conway’s time. The evening session was heavily rain affected and it was only the LMP1 cars that set respectable times as they took to the track at the very start of the session and set their times before the track got saturated.

Problems for the #4 ByKOLLES Racing LMP1 privateer held it in the garage for most of the day. The team were waiting for parts to arrive for their Nismo engine and working through some teething problems, meaning they couldn’t get the car out on track. With half an hour of testing left, Robert Kubica took the ENSO CLM P1/01 out for six laps, setting a lap time of 2:17.915 on a rain-soaked track. The hope is that the issues the team were faced with will have been sorted and they can get to their proper testing programme tomorrow when track action gets underway again.

There was also a rumour of potential issues on the #2 Porsche LMP1 from an electrical stand. In the morning session, the #2 slipped down the pit lane silently, implying that there was no power to the car and it was just rolling to the pit box. No issues have been confirmed by the team, but it will be interesting to see if there is any significant improvement to the Porsche in tomorrow’s running.

The LMP2 field suggested a very close fight in the class is expected. With all teams having elected to run ORECA 07 chassis (Signatech Alpine run a modified version of the ORECA 07 to give them the Alpine A470) and all having to run the Gibson V8 engine, the class order will be determined more on aero packages and if teams can capitalise on any innovative technology or design features.

From the testing today, it looks like Vaillante Rebellion may have the best full package. They finished the first session with a one-two and the second session fastest with the #13. The afternoon session was taken by last year’s class champions #36 Signatech Alpine. But most of the time the LMP2 field was covered by just over a second, with the gaps between cars as little as a tenth of a second. It looks like there is not one dominate team in the LMP2 field. Perhaps if a different chassis had been chosen by someone there would have been some more variation, but from the first look at the cars going round the track it looks like LMP2 is going to be closely fought this year.

The new Porsche 911 RSRs look to be the benchmark for the rest of the LM GTE fields. Of course, the lap times and data must be looked at whilst keeping in mind the teams may have been on different programmes or set ups, but the Porsches were fastest in LM GTE Pro with the #92 Porsche GT Team entrant and in LM GTE Am with the Gulf Racing #86 in all three sessions today.

Ford look, at the moment, to be Porsche biggest rival in LM GTE Pro. Although Porsche took the fastest lap time of each session, Ford were never more than two-tenths off their pace. Ferrari looked to be getting into the fight in the afternoon session, placing a car in between the two Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK entries to take fourth fastest in class. Unfortunately, it seems that Aston Martin are a little way off the pace of the other GTE manufacturers. The deficit is not massive – on average, around half a second slower on their fastest laps – but they were always at the bottom of the LM GTE Pro class times.

Aston Martin has a similar situation in LM GTE Am. As of the last chequered flag today, The Am Aston Martin Racing entry #98 was, on average, the slowest LM GTE Am on track. The deficit, like in the Pro class, is not a massive one, but it may be cause for concern for the British manufacturer. There is a potential that the Aston Martins are sandbagging and they could take to the track at Silverstone and be fastest in class. This is the only issue with analysing the data and times that we get from pre-season tests; so much is left unknown and there is a very strong chance that all of the 27 cars have been sandbagging this weekend.

The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche was the pace setter for the Am class today. Like the LM GTE Pro Porsche, the Porsche 911 RSR (991)s of Gulf Racing and Dempsey-Proton Racing dominated the top of the times for their class, finishing the two dry sessions with a one-two. The Clearwater Racing and Spirit of Race Ferraris were next to line up behind the Porsches. The situation in both GTE classes is very similar; where Ford are just off the pace of Porsche in GTE Pro, it is Ferrari who is just off the pace of the Porsches in GTE Am.

Last weekend marked the 55th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and kick-started the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The race was filled with drama from the first hour and heavy rainfall putting the grid under a 2-hour long full course yellow in the early hours of the morning. With the full course yellows making 21 appearances over the 24 hours of racing it was evidently an action-packed race. 14 of the 55 entrants in the race failed to take the chequered flag, with the last retiree dropping out of the race with just half an hour left on the clock.

From the beginning of the race weekend, it was clear that the Cadillac DPis were the dominant car on the field, taking fastest lap in all of the practice sessions and qualifying. The case did not change during the race. Although the VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley/Multimatic did hold the lead of the race for around 30 laps during the 24 hours, it was primarily a fight between the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac and the Action Express Cadillacs for the overall win.

There were a few challenges from other chassis in the Prototype class for the overall win but none of these came to light. The #22 Tequila Petron Nissan Onroak DPi looked to be in with a chance of challenging for the overall win during the night period of the race. However, heavy rainfall was making it very difficult for the drivers to get the tyres up to optimum racing temperature for a few laps after they had been in the pits. This caused great issues for the #22 as, with Brendon Hartley at the wheel, the New Zealand driver lost control of the car coming onto the banked corner and made contact with a GT car, damaging the steering on the Nissan. This incident took the #22 completely out of contention for the race, ending 17th overall and seventh in class.

It was not just issues for the #22 during the race. The second Action Express car – number #31 – had a start-up issue from the beginning of the race. This was losing the car time during pit stops as the team had to take it behind the wall to bump start it in the garage. Seb Morris got into the car for the first time, having won his seat in the Sunoco Challenge, and put on an amazing display. He managed to get the #31 up to first overall and get a pit stop advantage on second place in his first stint.

But that was where the good fortune of the #31 disappeared. All of Morris’ hard work was undone as the car failed to start up again in the pitlane. Rather than a simple start-up behind the wall, the car disappeared for around half an hour for more extensive repairs. It fell down the order and out of contention for the win. There were issues on the #5 Action Express Cadillac, but nothing as extensive as those issue to behold the #31. After 24 hours of racing, the final half an hour saw intense wheel-to-wheel racing for the overall lead of the race, with under a second splitting the leading pair.

Using the pitstops, #5 Action Express had managed to get ahead and be leading going into the last few laps. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing car was forced into a ‘do or die’ move as the end of the race got closer. As he tried to go up the inside into the first corner, leading to the infield section, the #10 made contact with the #5, spinning the Action Express car off into the off-field. Both cars managed to get through the accident unscathed, but it was a shock when the #10 was not handed an “advantage by contact” penalty. #10 Wayne Taylor Racing went on to take the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona overall win, with the #5 crew having to settle for second. Filipe Albuquerque, who was piloting the #5 at the end of the race, was furious about the result, claiming that in-race incidents happen but the Wayne Taylor Racing car should have waited for him to keep their race going wheel-to-wheel to the chequered flag and make the win of the race fair.

The Prototype Challenge class saw the #38 Performance Tech Motorsport car as the only one not to succumb to a big issue during the 24 hours. They won the Prototype Challenge class with the two Starworks Motorsport cars retiring in the last few hours. The #8 and #88 Starworks cars had suffered a lot of damage, with them both being involved in heavy impacts that saw them in the garages for repairs for a long time. The #88 was hit by the #31 in a similar accident that fell upon Hartley in the #22 Tequila Petron car, whilst an off-track moment from the #8 Starworks Prototype Challenge car saw it spear into the side of the #73 GT Porsche, crashing it into the tyre barrier and taking the Porsche out of the race. The Porsche had been leading the GT Daytona class at the time. The #8 Starworks car was handed a ten-minute stop/go penalty for the incident after it had been in the pits for about four hours for repairs.

Incidents during the race saw the two BAR1 Motorsports finishing 22 laps behind the leader of the class. The #20 and #26 cars appeared to have lost some performance from qualifying, losing their advantage over the #38 Performance Tech Motorsport car. The #38 managed to take the win in class from pole in class and barely had any challenge for the lead during the race.

After locking out the top three in qualifying, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing had a much harder time during the race. Although they still held an advantage over the GT Le Mans field there was a much stronger challenge from behind through the 24 hours. In the end, four GT Le Mans cars were in contention for the win, with the cars all running wheel-to-wheel during the final handful of laps. What made the end of the race even more exciting was four different manufacturers in the top four at the end of the race, showing that Ford’s advantage from qualifying had been overcome during the 24-hour race.

The #62 Risi Competizione looked to be the biggest threat for class-leader #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing as they sat second on track behind the American team. The #62 had been the biggest competition to the Fords throughout the race and managed to keep coming back to second, sometimes first, after the pitstop cycles. However, the Porsche #911 was sitting third at the end of the race and looking for any opportunity to progress further up the field. The Corvette #3 was sitting fourth, also looking for a chance to get higher up the field but it didn’t quite have the pace of the leading three.

Taking the opportunity when the #62 tried to make a move up the inside of #66 and went wide the #911 Porsche managed to steal second from the Ferrari 488 GTE and begin chasing down the Ford for first in class. The #62 had no chance to fight back as it fell into range of the #3 Corvette behind it, leaving it vulnerable to losing a podium altogether. As much as they tried the pace of the Porsche and Corvette were no match to those ahead in the Ford and the Ferrari, seeing the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing take the overall class win and the #911 Porsche and the #62 Ferrari finishing off the class podium.

Of all the classes to be competing, the GT Daytona class had the closest racing of them all. During the 24-hour race there was consistently a different leader, with the top eight cars in class usually all being from different manufacturers. The class was too close to call before the race had started, and even with just 30-minutes left who was going to win was unpredictable.

The unpredictable nature of the class was underlined when just half an hour of the race remained the leading #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 suddenly stopped on track. Sam Bird had been fighting back through the field, showing the superior pace of the Ferrari, and had just re-taken the lead when his car, with no warning, stopped out on track dropping him completely out of contention. There was not enough time left in the race to try and repair the car so last year’s GT Daytona Champion-winning car failed to finish the race.

The #73 Porsche had been showing great pace during the first section of the race, leading the class and having Matthew McMurry perform impressively during his stints. It was unfortunate that the car was taken out of the race by the #8 Starworks Prototype Challenge car as it had been showing fantastic pace and could have been a contender for the class win had it have made it to the end of the race.

The class was won in the end by the #28 Alegra Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R, with the #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS second and the #33 Riley Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 rounding off the podium positions. It was a perfect reflection of the closely pegged GT3 cars in this class that the podium housed three different manufacturers. Six different manufactures were present in the top ten at the chequered flag, just as there had been on average through the 24-hours of racing.

With four hours to go, Cadillac continue to dominate.

The 21st hour began with the continuation of the battle between the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac and the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, meanwhile, in GTLM, the six leading cars were all within a matter of seconds. The beginning of the hour saw the #55 Mazda DPi pull in to the pit lane with an oil fire at the rear of the car. Spencer Pigot escaped the car unharmed but the car remained in the pits, dropping out of the top five. Another yellow flag for a PC incident brought out by the #8 Starworks car Motorsports car spinning into the inside of turn one. This brought the pack closer together once again. The gap between the top three in P closed down to five seconds as the race restarted. The battle in GTLM was beginning to hot up between the #62 Ferrari and the #69 Ford GT. The #912 Porsche dropped out of contention due to a drive through penalty and fell two laps down. The #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes cycled back in to the lead of GTD under pressure from the Michael Shank Acura cars. Sam Bird took the lead in the #63 Ferrari towards the end of the hour. A third caution of the hour was called after the #81 DragonSpeed car hit the barrier, smashing its rear wing.

With two hours left, Cadillac still held a comfortable lead, the VISIT FLORIDA Racing #90 was the best of the rest, running third. The two Cadillac’s were fighting hard between themselves, swapping positions. Filipe Albuquerque took the lead from Christian Fittipaldi and pulled out a 20 second advantage. Despite the clear pace advantage of the Cadillacs, VISIT FLORIDA Racing were still on the lead lap. Just one lap back, the #2 Tequila Patron ESM sat fourth with the #13 Rebellion Racing running fifth in class, eight laps down. Ben Hanley began the hour having just lost control of the DragonSpeed Oreca into the Bus Stop. The car limped back to the pits for repairs, body work littering the track. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports car dominated the PC class, 24 laps clear of the second place #26 car.  The lead six cars continued to battle in GTLM, the #66 Ford leading the way from the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari second ahead of the #68 and #69 Fords. The #3 Corvette and #911 Porsche completed the six car train that was running almost nose to tail.

Heartbreak hit in GTD, Sam Bird pulled off the circuit with smoke streaming from the back of the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari at the end of the hour. The #63 Corsa pulled over with the rear wheels locked on the inside of turn six. It would appear the engine had blown and seized. This handed the lead to the #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi.

The #90 VISIT FLORIDA car inherited the lead as the next pitstop cycle begun, the #10 Cadillac fell in to third with a slow stop. Felipe Albuquerque took the advantage in the #5 and set about building his advantage as the trio sliced through the traffic. Starworks Motorsport officially retired their cars from the race.

Meanwhile, in GTLM, Corvette took the lead through the pit stops, holding on to the lead before eventually losing out to the #66 Ford and the #62 Ferrari towards the end of the hour. GTD was still a five way fight as the race reached the end of the 23rd hour. The #33 Riley began the hour on top, under pressure from the #29 and #28 cars, both of whom passed at the end of the hour. The #28 Alegra Motorsports car was on a charge as the race entered the final hour, passing three cars in as many laps. Michael Christensen put his car into second behind Connor De Phillippi. The hour ended under caution as the bonnet was ripped off the #93 Michael Shank Racing car.

At the end of a fantastic, Rolex 24 At Daytona, it was the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac that took the win after a controversial move to pass the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. The aggressive move down the inside into turn one with just five minutes remaining assured victory for the #10 which made contact and spun the #5 off the circuit. Albuquerque got the car restarted and set off after the #10. The move was investigated by the stewards and deemed legal. As